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The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community; with a Retrospective Essay

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226561417
ISBN-10: 0226561410
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This is one of the works that Gress criticizes as an example of the Grand Narrative. And, in the retrospective essay contained in this most recent edition, McNeill does acknowledge the "cultural imperialism" of the scope and conception of the work as well as some of the other weaknesses. However, it still remains an informative overview suitable for high school as well as college and public libraries.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

William H. McNeill is the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of History and the College at the University of Chicago. His many books include The Pursuit of Power, The Rise of the West, and Mythistory and Other Essays, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 860 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (January 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226561410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226561417
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The insights into how and why certain developments took place in history that are presented in this book make it fascinating. It spans the early civilizations of the Middle East to modern times and the rise of Communism and totalitarianism, dealing with topics like art, literature, political systems, and religion, and how all these things tied together to shape history. One of the best aspects of the book is the way it provides insights into how developments in one civilization affected others. The way it shifts views from one major civilization to another and spans thousands of years gives the reader a sense of perspective and a realization of the depth and complexity of history. Besides the high scholarly value of the book, the writing style is excellent and easy to read. I luckily ran into it and read it purely by chance, only to learn later that it is considered a history classic.
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Format: Paperback
To the reader criticizing the "Eurocentrism" of this book, with a title like "Rise of the West" what did you expect? The past 500 years has basically been the story of the Western European nations and later America surpassing overall the other historic civilizations of the world in all aspects of culture, society, political organization, science, technology, art, music, etc. Thats not something for some to brag about or feel superior about but neither is it something to bemoan or deny; rather its there to understand the how and the why it happened.

The modern world we live in (and personally I dislike much of it) was shaped in the West and whether you like it or not understanding who we are--we being the entire world which is either part of the West, becoming or already is "westernized", or is feeling the pressure to do so--requires a knowledge of history that is centered on the West. Thats not to deny other civilizations and their contributions to the world their due respect, but there are reasons for keeping a larger focus on the ancient mediteranean civilizations (Greek, Roman and others) and western Europe from the Renaisance onward; its what made the world we live in and should be expected in a book titled "the Rise of the West."

As far as McNeils book goes its actually far less Eurocentric then you might think from the title, and a central theme of the book is how various cultures have interacted and McNeil does give plenty of attention to Islam, India, and China. Its only in the last half of the book that it gets Eurocentric, and not because it "ignores" other cultures/civilizations but deals with "the rise of the west" in those chapters, like any grand narrative history dealing with the past 500 years would. While not perfect it deals with its subject in a readable narrative.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent Eurocentric history. McNeill acknowledges his Eurocentrism in his retrospective introduction and provides an excellent critique of his own book: he underplays the significance of Chinese and other civilizations east of the Oxus.
Regardless, McNeill expounds a sound theory that civilizations didn't evolve in isolation, but that the interplay of different cultures enabled their progress. McNeill weaves migrations, conquests, international trade, and technological innovations into a riveting story on how modern civilization rose from the fields of the fertile crescent. The book reads like an epic novel -- albeit with lots of footnotes -- in that it weaves over 5,000 years of history into a single story.
This has been the most fascinating history book I have ever read.
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Format: Paperback
McNeill belongs to that category of historians who not only bring an enormous treasure chest of knowledge, but who present it in a writing style so direct and compelling that the reader cannot help but admire their work. "The Rise of the West" is a monumental book. McNeill's knowledge of histroy, of facts, his erudition--all leave the reader in a kind of suspense and disbelief. Can one man know this much? Apparently he can. McNeill's vast lore is a proof of commitment to scholarship and historical discovery. Whether or not the West has a special status and a claim to a special place in human civilization (as I believe it does) is something that is for you, the reader, to decide. McNeill makes his arguments and then reasses them years later in this new edition; and he is less upbeat about the special position of the West. But that is theory, perspective, possibility, interpretation. Whatever interpretation you embrace, you won't regret reading this book for its facts, its comprehensive narrative, and its gift of widening historical perspectives and imagination.
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Format: Paperback
This epic magesterial volume deserves no less than to be required reading for all citizens of the Western World. McNeill employs deft understanding and sensitivity equal to the herculean task. The author is no Western apologist, but shows how global civilization is developing into a mosaic largely driven by Western ideas.
Beginning just before the dawn of the agrarian transormation and spanning its eventual blossomings (and fadings) into civilization, McNeill takes the reader on a journey that answers questions you never knew you had. The Western way eventually remade the world, and McNeill shows why and how and when. Using evidence from art, archaeology, anthropology, politics, commerce, science, and religion he paints confident, broad strokes that nevertheless are rich in detail. It is a masterpiece of staggering scope, rendered in a noble voice.
The only important criticism is an undeniable Eurocentric bias (readily admitted by the author). But this becomes understandable and quite forgiveable as the reader follows the author wrestling enormous epics of civilization into a readable form. Regardless of this necessary perspective Rise of the West can certainly stand as comparable, perhaps even superior to similar works by Spengler, Toynbee, Braudel, or Diamond.
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