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Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future Hardcover – October 12, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374290024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374290023
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Only the supremely self-confident put forth all-encompassing theories of world history, and Morris is one such daredevil. An archaeologist by academic specialty, he advances a quasi-deterministic construct that is suitable for nonacademics. From a repeatedly enunciated premise that humans by nature are indolent, avaricious, and fearful, Morris holds that such traits, when combined with sociology and geography, explain history right from the beginning, when humanity trudged out of Africa, through the contemporary rivalry between China and America. Such temporal range leaves scant room for individual human agency: Morris names the names of world history, but in his narrative, leaders and tyrants, at best, muddle through patterns of history that are beyond their power to shape. And those patterns, he claims, can be numerically measured by a “social development index” that he applies to every epochal change from agriculture to the industrial revolution. However, the reading is not as heavy as it may sound. His breezy style and what-if imagination for alternative scenarios should maintain audience interest; whether his sweeping perspective convinces is another matter altogether. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

Praise for Why the West Rules-for Now

“In an era when cautious academics too often confine themselves to niggling discussions of pipsqueak topics, it is a joy to see a scholar take a bold crack at explaining the vast sweep of human progress. . .
Readers of Why the West Rules—For Now are unlikely to see the history of the world in quite the same way ever again. And that can't be said of many books on any topic. Morris has penned a tour de force.”—Keith Monroe, The Virginian-Pilot
 
“If you read one history book this year, if you read one this decade, this is the one.”— Tim O’ Connell, The Florida Times-Union
 
“A monumental effort...Morris is an engaging writer with deep insights from archaeology and ancient history that offer us compelling visions about how the past influences the future.”—Michael D. Langan, Buffalo News

“[Morris] has written the first history of the world that really makes use of what modern technology can offer to the interpretation of the historical process. The result is a path-breaking work that lays out what modern history should look like.”—Harold James, Financial Times

“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, The New York Times Book Review
 
“A remarkable book that may come to be as widely read as Paul Kennedy’s 1987 work, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.’ Like Mr Kennedy’s epic, Mr Morris’s ‘Why the West Rules—For Now’ uses history and an overarching theory to address the anxieties of the present . . . This is an important book—one that challenges, stimulates and entertains. Anyone who does not believe there are lessons to be learned from history should start here.” —The Economist
 
“Morris’ new book illustrates perfectly why one really scholarly book about the past is worth a hundred fanciful works of futurology. 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 . . . He has brilliantly pulled off what few modern academics would dare to attempt: a single-volume history of the world that offers a bold and original answer to the question, Why did the societies that make up 'the West' pull ahead of 'the Rest' not once but twice, and most spectacularly in the modern era after around 1500? Wearing his impressive erudition lightly — indeed, writing with a wit and clarity that will delight the lay reader — Morris uses his own ingenious index of social development as the basis for his answer.” —Niall Ferguson, Foreign Affairs

“A formidable, richly engrossing effort to determine why Western institutions dominate the world . . . Readers will enjoy [Morris’s] lively prose and impressive combination of scholarship . . . with economics and science. A superior contribution to the grand-theory-of-human-history genre.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“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.’ Morris explains how the shadowy East-West divide came about, why it really does matter, and how one day it might end up. His vision is dazzling, and his prose irresistible. Everyone from Sheffield to Shanghai who wants to know not only how they came to be who and where they are but where their children and their children’s children might one day end up must read this book.” —Anthony Pagden, author of Worlds and War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West

“This is an astonishing work by Ian Morris: hundreds of pages of the latest information dealing with every aspect of change. Then, the questions of the future: What will a new distribution bring about? Will Europe undergo a major change? Will the millions of immigrants impose a new set of rules on the rest? There was a time when Europe could absorb any and all newcomers. Now the newcomers may dictate the terms. The West may continue to rule, but the rule may be very different.” —David S. Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

“Here you have three books wrapped into one: an exciting novel that happens to be true; an entertaining but thorough historical account of everything important that happened to any important people in the last ten millennia; and an educated guess about what will happen in the future. Read, learn, and enjoy!” —Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Natural Experiments of History
“Ian Morris is a classical archaeologist, an ancient historian, and a writer whose breathtaking vision and scope make him fit to be ranked alongside the likes of Jared Diamond and David Landes. His magnum opus is a tour not just d’horizon but de force, taking us on a spectacular journey to and from the two nodal cores of the Euramerican West and the Asian East, alighting and reflecting as suggestively upon 10,800 BC as upon AD 2010. The shape of globalizing history may well never be quite the same again.” —Paul Cartledge, A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, Clare College

“At last—a brilliant historian with a light touch. We should all rejoice.” —John Julius Norwich

“Deeply thought-provoking and engagingly lively, broad in sweep and precise in detail.” —Jonathan Fenby, author of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present

“Morris’s history of world dominance sparkles as much with exotic ideas as with extraordinary tales. Why the West Rules—for Now is both a riveting drama and a major step toward an integrated theory of history.” —Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

“The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to get. With wit and wisdom, Ian Morris deploys the techniques and insights of the new ancient history to address the biggest of all historical questions: Why on earth did the West beat the Rest? I loved it.” —Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money

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.

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Customer Reviews

The book is very well written and engaging.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry
It also seems to me that Morris makes a plausible and well supported argument about the reasons why Western dominance since the 1750s happened, which is its main goal.
Psychic Octopus
I didn't see much in the book that would legitimately answer that question.
Mark Twain

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

231 of 243 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Kwan on October 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As can be seem by both the summary and and various book reviews, this is big history, encompassing the dawn of the first homonids (or ape-men as the author put it) to present day, with a chapter conjecturing about the future.

I was going to try and compare it to some of books in the same genre that I have read, but this book takes, disproves and/ or builds on their arguments - books such as Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Pommeranz's the Great Divergence, Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations - and they are all cited in his book and Morris takes pains to show how they only focus on one small piece of the picture. Indeed the feeling of reading this must have been similar for those who read Marx's Das Kapital for the first time (although the language is much more accessible and the conclusion is open ended) in that it attempts to set out underlying laws of history.

In the words of the author - "History is not one damn thing after another, it is a single grand and relentless process of adaptations to the world that always generate new problems (in the form of disease, famine, climate change, migration and state failure) that call for further adaptations. And each breakthrough came not as a result of tinkering but as a result of desperate times, calling for desperate measures." There may be set backs and hard ceilings, with free will and culture being the wildcards that may hinder social development but eventually the conditions give rise to ideas that allow progress to be made.
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200 of 223 people found the following review helpful By PK on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is hard to decide how many stars to assign to this book. Ian Morris' book would deserve 5 stars if it were merely a world history book. It succeeds in creating a unified, comprehensible narrative of world history from the stone age to the present day in a way that no other book I am aware of has done. For this reason, it would deserve to be classified as a classic.

However, on the other hand, the aim of Ian Morris has not been to write a comprehensive history of the the major world civilizations from the stone age to the present. It has been to explain the Western predominance of the last centuries and to predict what the future will look like. His discussion of the future is quite admirable and thoughtful indeed. However, I have found his answer to the central question the book poses to fall below ordinary academic standards on two fronts: it trivializes the question, and lacks novelty.

1. It trivializes the question. The central question of the book is answered by an argument of geographic reductionism and determinism. In short, the Western "rule" of the last few centuries is attributed to the shorter breadth of the Atlantic Ocean as opposed to the Pacific. This shorter breadth made the Americas more easily accessible to Europeans than to Asians, hence the former created an Atlantic economy, therefore faced different challenges than the latter, responded to them by the scientific and industrial revolutions, and hence rule. I find this argument to be rather simplistic, and I do not think that there was a need to write such a long book if its sole purpose was to put this argument down (after all, it has been said before - see below). The problem with this argument is that it stops exactly where the truly important questions should be asked.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ian Morris' Why the West Rules is certainly audacious. As the subtitle suggests, Morris ventures to explain all of human history and, apparently still unsatisfied, to see into the future as well. He appears to have read widely and deeply to match his scholarship to his ambition. His exposition is clear and often seasoned with a light touch.

This is not the sort of book many will be inclined to read fully in just a few long stretches, but on balance it is likely to engage and challenge persons with a serious interest in mega-history. While some specialists in particular domains (say the British industrial revolution, for example) may disagree with some of Mr. Morris' interpretations or find them insufficiently nuanced, that is to be expected for works of broad historical synthesis such as this one.

Morris starts with pre-human "ape-men" (he can turn a phrase) and traces comparative East-West "social development" to the present and beyond. He has devised his own method for measuring it, a quantitative index that takes into account (1) energy capture (calories used); (2) organization, as measured by urbanization; (3) information processing, represented by literacy rates; and (4) the capacity to make war. He graphically plots his estimates of the index scores of the East versus those of the West since 14,000 BCE. The main body of the text describes the historical forces and events underlying the graphical patterns.

There are many objections that might be raised against the quantitative index and Morris is aware of them. He has stated that he nevertheless chose to construct it to help make more explicit what he means when he describes social development in any given period or region.
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