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The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Studies in Critical Social Sciences) Hardcover – February 7, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-9004192485 ISBN-10: 9004192484

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Curious History
Learn about fascinating moments in history, from Arctic expeditions to the origins of Wonder Woman and more. Learn more

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Product Details

  • Series: Studies in Critical Social Sciences (Book 28)
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Brill (February 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9004192484
  • ISBN-13: 978-9004192485
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,795,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Burack on August 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I can't predict that this book will be a classic for years to come, but I do think it should be. In recent decades, the field of world history has been relentless in its downgrading of the idea of Western uniqueness in pursuit of a supposed multicultural purity of point of view. In this book, Ricardo Duchesne calls into question much of the key scholarly research seeking to justify this anti-Eurocentric spirit, he also makes it clear just how much we are losing by denying the unique heritage of our Western cultural and intellectual journey. And the "we" in this case is not only the West itself, but all of humanity.

In the book's first half, Duchesne undertakes a vigorous and exhaustive interrogation of the entire gamut of academic world history's current pace-setters (Andre Gunder Frank; Immanuel Wallerstein and world systems theories: Pomeranz-Wong-Goldstone et all on the Great Divergence; Patrick Manning on Big History; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto; John Hobson on the East's influence on the West; Jack Goody, etc.). It is a tour de force challenge to the prevailing academic paradigm in this field. It deals specifically and rigorously with the work of the above mentioned scholars and incorporates and summarizes a huge amount of the research of many others who in various ways challenge the paradigm - David Landes, Joel Mokyr, Aaron Maddison, Joseph Bryant, Margaret Jacobs, Peer Vries (partially), Edward Grant, Toby Huff, Harold Berman, Victor David Hanson, and a number of others.

Duchesne explores a great many facets of the debate among these scholars, but I will mention just one: the arguments about the "Great Divergence," of the West, or England, from China.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Martin Hewson on September 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I found out about this book from the New Books in History podcast, hesitated at the steep price, but was very glad I bought it.

Since the 1990s, a potent revisionist movement has been trying to install a new interpretation of world history. Spearheaded by well-known academics from numerous fields (such as the late Andre Gunder Frank, Jack Goody, Ken Pomeranz, John Hobson, Jack Goldstone, and Ian Morris), the revisionists claim that prior views of the shape of world history are almost all "Eurocentric." They strongly disapprove of anyone who might suggest that the West is exceptional or that it blazed a special path in history. They hold that the "rise of the West" to extraordinary wealth and power was late, lucky, and is probably temporary. Duchesne dubs this movement "multicultural history." Because it declares the parity of all cultures and civilizations, its bias is to level down the West by pointing to instances of Western inferiority and backwardness, and by downplaying the disproportionate achievements of the West.

But now Duchesne's profound and wide-ranging "Uniqueness of Western Civilization" is leading a counter-critique of the revisionist movement. Duchesne outlines the intellectual context out of which this version of revisionism emerges; provides a detailed and devastating critique of the specific claims of the revisionists, particularly concerning early modern Chinese and European economic and scientific development; and offers a bold new explanation of how and why the path of the West diverged so markedly from that of "the rest." Each of these three elements is in itself a work of interest.

So, what makes the West unique?
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Huntoon on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Duchesne's book examines (the history of) the history of Western Civilization. He examines the economists', the historians', and the philosophers' understanding and arguments throughout this scholarship. Duchesne also examines the arguments made by each scholar-- how they present their case that either the 'West' is dominant or not, has always been dominant or not, and whether their is something unique about Western culture, history or something else that has or has not engendered the Western world we live in today. Duchesne answers in the affirmative in all these cases.

The book is a good overview of Western history as well, and I have found the references to be quite intriguing. It is obvious that a ton of research has gone into this project, and we are rewarded with this synthesis. I have since purchased some of the books he has examined and am enjoying these reads as well. The history of the philosophy on Western civilization is most rewarding, as he contextualizes the writings of Hegel, Weber, Spengler, Nietzsche, and others.

The book is bound well and the paper is good too. The hardcover makes the book a lasting one.

My inspiration for buying the book were two things: my recent travel to China, and the listening of this podcast on the New Books in history website: [...] The podcast will give you a good feel for the tone of the book.

One last note, this is a scholarly book. It is filled with references, citations, etc. This may be an issue for non-scholar types, but I made it through.

Bottom line: get it if you're interested in why the world is the way it is today instead of something else. That's my take anyway.
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