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All such distinctions, writes Oxford University historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, are arbitrary and laden with subjective value; they speak to unscientific notions of progress, to hidden agendas. What matters, he continues, is the extent to which a culture has developed means to separate itself from nature: "Civilization makes its own habitat. It is civilized in direct proportion to its distance, its difference from the unmodified natural environment." A culture such as the ancient Han Chinese, the medieval highland Maya, or the Renaissance Venetian, then, is highly civilized inasmuch as its members dammed and diverted rivers, drained lakes, stripped forests, and built monumental structures to celebrate their achievements; people content or resigned to "live off the product and inhabit the spaces nature gives them" are markedly less so by virtue of that accommodation.
No culture, Fernández-Armesto writes, is inherently exempt from becoming civilized; nor, he adds, does "civilized" equate to "good." In exploring history as a branch of historical ecology, he sometimes abandons his thesis, intriguing and provocative as it is, to engage in a wide-ranging survey of the world past reminiscent of (but much better-written than) Toynbee and Durant, touching on the ancient Greeks here, the herding peoples of the African savanna and Central Asia there, the Moundbuilders of prehistoric North America and the hunting peoples of the Arctic there. Unlike many standard textbooks, his narrative manages to offer something new wherever he turns. Allusive and learned, his book repays close reading--and should inspire plenty of argument along the way. -- Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The subtitle for Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's amazing book references culture, ambition and nature. These ideas are all central to his history of civilizations, but as he states near... Read morePublished on May 2, 2011 by James Henderson
This book is macrohistory, or "big history" as the field has become popularly known. Although clearly authored by an erudite scholar's scholar, this book is targeted at the general... Read morePublished on July 2, 2010 by C. Kollars
It is a broad and deep study of what we the humans are as part of our environment.Published on September 20, 2009 by Victor L. Maqque
This distinguished historian travels through the history of civilizations in an uncommon way: grouping them according to the kind of environment in which they have developed. Read morePublished on August 17, 2009 by Guillermo Maynez
His typical book. A wide-ranging survey, with occasional interesting incident, but little insight or in-depth study. Read morePublished on April 14, 2008
I read this book and Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel back to back, and they're really similar books about the relation between civilization and the environment. Read morePublished on May 24, 2006 by Matt
This book is great if you are preparing for a history quiz. I'm glad I bought it, but only because I also have access to google. Read morePublished on April 14, 2006 by Vivek Saxena