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The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations Hardcover – January 27, 2013

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The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations + War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots + Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
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Editorial Reviews


"Stanford University classicist and historian Morris follows up Why the West Rules--for Now with a sophisticated volume designed to add quantitative muscle to his earlier arguments. A big-history theorist working in a vein similar to Niall Ferguson or Jared Diamond, Morris measures societies' historical 'abilities to get things done in the world.' With an impressive data array, he calibrates energy resources, social organization, war-making capacity, and information technology over time to compare the East and West. In the 21st century, he foresees a shift in global power and wealth from West to East, much as it shifted from East to West in the 19th. . . . The ingenuity and style of his arguments will make economists and historians stand up and take notice."--Publishers Weekly

"Buttressed with numerous graphs and engagingly written, this work provides much food for thought."--Choice

"Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris gives a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century. . . . Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends."--World Book Industry

"Quantification is an invaluable tool for understanding the patterns of history. This book is to be applauded for thinking about how to measure the social competence of earlier societies."--Gregory Clark, American Historical Review

Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state-of-the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied."--Niall Ferguson, Foreign Affairs

Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer . . . possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster."--Orville Schell, New York Times Book Review

From the Back Cover

"The Measure of Civilization is a superb model of operationalizing the social sciences. A wonderful achievement."--Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

"The Measure of Civilization is a terrific book--it will inform, stimulate, and challenge you. Beautifully summarizing and quantifying the major developments in energy capture, social organization, war technology, and categorization, storage, and communication of information over the last sixteen millennia, this book shows how far we have come and how this journey has been a cumulative process."--Daron Acemoglu, coauthor of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

"Ian Morris has done it again. He has enriched the argument about 'why the West rules' with a treasure trove of information about social development over the last sixteen thousand years. No one seriously interested in world or 'big' history can afford not to read this book. It clearly and consistently told me what I needed to know about the social resources that provide the indispensable context for the interpretation of culture. And it is an enormous pleasure to read. I cannot think of another book from which I have learned so much."--Robert N. Bellah, author of Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

"This is a superb book. Measuring how societies learned to harness energy better, improve their organizational and war-making capacities, and accumulate usable information, Ian Morris has developed a terrific index of social development. His fascinating conclusions and use of data will be controversial, but this book will become a classic source for anyone studying the nature of progress from sixteen thousand years ago to now."--Daniel Chirot, author of How Societies Change

"For all those interested in why the West, not the East, industrialized first, this succinct and intelligent book provides new data, a new conceptual tool, and a promising new approach to this major question. It is a valuable, critical guide to Morris's quantitative index of social development and important for his observations about what we can learn from existing work, what features of societies matter most, and what future research is needed."--Philip T. Hoffman, California Institute of Technology

"Morris's work is part of a resurgence of materialist, scientific approaches in archaeology and history. As such, many will be interested in the data and methods made available by this important book. The Measure of Civilization contains valuable and useful ideas and insights."--Michael E. Smith, Arizona State University

Praise for Ian Morris: "Ian Morris has returned history to the position it once held: no longer a series of dusty debates, nor simple stories--although he has many stories to tell and tells them brilliantly--but a true magister vitae, 'teacher of life.'"--Anthony Pagden, author of Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East and West


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691155682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691155685
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian Morris teaches classics, history, and archaeology at Stanford University. Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, in 1960, he now lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. He has directed excavations in Greece, and Italy, and has published 11 books and more than 80 articles. His most recent book, "Why the West Rules--For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), tells the stories of East and West across the last 15,000 years, from the final days of the Ice Age into the 22nd century, explaining why the West came to dominate the rest--and what will happen next. His next book, called "War! What is It Good For?" will tell the story of war from prehuman times to our own, making two controversial claims--first, that war has helped humanity as well as harming it; and second, that war is now changing out of all recognition.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Hans G. Despain on January 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In this highly ambitious book Ian Morris sets out to "quantify" "social development" (p. 3). Social development in turn is defined as "a measure of communities' abilities to get things done in the world" (p. 6). More specifically, the bold aim of Morris is to explain why "Western" (p. 31) nations have come to dominant the world economically and politically (p. 50).

More generally he sets out to explain how the "core" areas of both the East and the West shift over time (p. 35). More narrowly Morris's analysis can challenge such controversial statements such as Gregory Clark contentious pronouncement that "the average person in the world of 1800 [CE] was no better off than the average person of 100,000 BC" (p. 57).

In this review I have remained neutral and attempted to function as a reporter. The five stars are for his explicit details in the development of his "social development index" and not offered as an endorsement. This book is important and is sure to generate even more reaction than did his "Why the West Rules - For Now."

In his book "Why the West Rules - For Now" addressed the relative importance of material and cultural forces shaping history. This book rigorously upholds the findings of the earlier book (p. 255 - 7). Namely culture is a relatively passive or dependent variable in shaping history.

Theories abound which argue the West domination is a function of a superior culture, advantageous climate and natural environment, or even that Western people are biological superior to other people of the world (e.g. Herbert Spencer pp. 7 - 9). Morris maintains these theories will not do. The recent rise of Japan, the Asian Miracles (e.g. South Korea, etc.) and China immediately reveal the shortcomings.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is essentially an expansion of the appendix in Morris' book "Why the West Rules..." (WTWR). In WTWR, Morris introduced a social development index to quantify the relative status of societies across large stretches of human history. Most of WTWR was devoted to interpretation with the nitty-gritty of the social development index consigned to an appendix. In this book, Morris provides an extensive description of the index, how its constructed, and how he applied it to the "West" and the "East" across the broad sweep of human history. This book is, consequently, less ambitious than WTWR and in many respects, considerably more convincing. I think Morris makes a good case that his index, composed of 4 metrics of energy capture, social organization, warmaking capacity, and information technology, does a good job of summarizing historical social development and provides a reasonable metric for both synchronic and diachronic comparisons. Morris' descriptions of his analysis are based on an impressive synthesis of existing historical and archaeological literature. One of the best aspects of this book is the remarkably broad and useful bibliography. If you're interested in reading WTWR, I recommend reading this book first.

There are some minor and major defects. In a book covering such a broad range of topics, some details are wrong. There is no Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics. In his information technology metric, Morris uses Japan as the year 2000 benchmark, when South Korea would have been more appropriate. Anyone expecting that this book addresses the subtitle, "How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations," is going to be disappointed. This book is not about nations and one of Morris' themes is geographical determinism of social development.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on March 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As one who has been down this road of attempting to measure social phenomena -- in my case developing scales of measurement (using an instrument called the Semantic Differential) in an attempt to measure and index international tension, I understand what this author was up against. And I must say that he has acquitted himself quite well under daunting theoretical circumstances. At least everything he did was transparent.

Using his own definition of social development (a social groups' ability to master their physical and intellectual environment and get things done in the world) and devising his own quantitative measuring instruments (indices that measure four areas the author deems critical to social development: energy capture, social organization, war-making capacity and technology information), he undertakes the task of measuring human social development since its beginning. He adopts this approach apparently because the critical element of his undertaking is the need to be able to measure and compare social development across long stretches of space and time - arguably, since social development began about 15, 000 years ago.

However, even if it turns out that his tools work well and he is successful at this task, this book then simply reduces to a more convincing implementation phase of the author's earlier book "Why the West Rules, for Now." In that book, the reader may recall that the author drew the controversial conclusion that for a host of reasons, presumably captured in this analysis, the West has been dominant in social development at least since the Christian era.
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