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How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity Hardcover – March 17, 2014
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Praise for How the West Won
“Fortunately, a few unapologetic defenders of Western civilization can still be found. In How the West Won, Rodney Stark details how and why the vital aspects of modernity—defined here as a combination of sensible economic arrangements, political freedoms and scientific knowledge—developed in the West rather than elsewhere. In the process he adds considerably to the content of the old Western Civ courses, which would often discreetly ignore the contribution of Christianity and neglect practical matters such as advances in technology and banking.” —Wall Street Journal
“Stark’s lively and absorbing new work beheads the academy’s dictatorship of relativism and enthrones in its place concrete and fact-based understanding in order here to give Western civilization the credit it richly deserves. . . . Along the way he upsets one politically correct apple cart after another. . . . Stark’s book should have as wide an audience as possible.” —Catholic World Report
“Exposes gaping holes in the prevailing narrative . . . Stark sets out to critique, and, in some instances, demolish several widespread mythologies about the West’s development. . . . In making these points, Stark is happy to engage in the deeply politically incorrect exercise of comparing developments in the West to that of other civilizations.” —Crisis
“What sets How the West Won apart from similar histories, and what makes it a sheer delight to read, is Stark’s wit, his elegant writing and, most especially, his reinterpretation of various historical events. . . . Nearly every chapter of How the West Won breaks some widely held opinion. . . . If you are looking for lively, erudite history, you’ll find How the West Won a splendid companion.” —Smoky Mountain News
Praise for Rodney Stark
“Stark has a vigorous prose style and a gift for clear explanation. The pace is swift, and the narrative thrilling.” —New York Times
“Fun to read, full of anecdote and incident . . . Mr. Stark is especially adept at challenging received ideas.” —Wall Street Journal
“Stark proves himself once again as a historical myth-buster.” —CBN.com
“Rodney Stark turns what we ‘know’ about history on its head.” —Relevant Magazine
“Stimulating and provocative . . . Deftly researched.” —Publishers Weekly
“Fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive.” —Newsweek
“Gripping, with tales of courage and desperation, outsized characters, and fate of cultures hanging in the balance . . . Masterful . . . Sets the record straight.” —National Catholic Register
“Wonderfully readable prose and politically incorrect conclusions.” —World Magazine
“[Stark’s] works are an encouraging corrective to the anti-Western history routinely taught in our schools.” —New Oxford Review
“Compelling reading, adding depth and coherence to the often nebulous hyperbole of historical hypotheses. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal
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Take the Dark Ages, which are always portrayed as an age of utter barbarism in our textbooks, a time when society declined and all that was worthy in the ancient world vanished. Stark points out that "serious historians have known for decades that these claims are a complete fraud. Even the respectable encyclopedias...now define the Dark Ages as a myth" (p 71).
He pulls out fact after fact to prove his position. Close to Stockholm, "an elaborate industrial community known as Helgo flourished from about 250 through 700." (p 82), and archaeologists have found a "'bronze Buddha figure made in India'" (p 81) in the ruins of Helgo, revealing how wide the trade was at the time.
Not only did trade flourish, but "Within several centuries of the fall of Rome, Europeans have developed military technology that far surpassed not the the Romans' but that of every other society on earth" (p 84).
Military might was important in the era. Islam was on the rise. In 1095 "The Byzantine emperor Alexius...appealed for Western forces to defend Constantinople from the threat of Turkish invaders" (p 102). Already, the entire of North Africa, which had once been solidly Christian, had fallen to Muslim armies.
Stark asks us to "Compare Shakespeare's tragedies with those of the ancient Greeks" (p 119) For example, Oedipus is at the mercy of a blind, unfeeling fate. The ancient gods were without virtue; they were petty, vengeful, and vain.
But Christianity imbued western culture with a belief in conscience. "It created a tendency for people not to be resigned to things as they are but rather to attempt to make the situation better" (119). It also meant an absolute truth existed, and could be rationally sought.
Christianity pushed society to abolish slavery, that economic pillar of the ancient world. Even though the west had inherited a civilization from ancient Rome that was based on slavery, by the end of the eighth century Charlemagne opposed slavery, as did the pope. Within a century it was generally agreed upon Christian principle that slavery was against divine law.
Although Max Weber claimed Protestantism invented capitalism, Stark points out that, rather, "The rise of capitalism in Europe proceeded the Reformation by centuries" (p 129).
The key to western civilization was the belief in the rationality of God. During the Middle Ages, the church created universities, and paid for priests to take classes. "The first university was founded in... 1088" (p 163). "By 1200...the University of Paris...had 2,550 to 5,000 students" (p 166).
One result was science - long before the Enlightenment. "Just as...eighteenth-century philosophers invented...the 'Dark Ages' to discredit Christianity, they labeled their own era the 'Enlightenment' on grounds that religious darkness had finally been dispelled by secular humanism" (p 309).
I loved how Stark acidly noted how not even one of these 'Enlightened' men, such as Voltaire, had anything to do with science. No, the people who were "scientific stars were members of the clergy, nine of them Roman Catholics" (p 309).
You really need this book! Stark is a marvelous writer, brisk and fun to read. But it is his ideas which are important. He argues brilliantly, and persuasively, that western civilization, so maligned in our current culture, is worthy of regard.
A bit shallow, focused only on positive aspects, but a healthy read nonetheless in this age of political correctness, highlighting the achievements of Western civilization, from the abolition of slavery (2 times), moral and scientific progress all the way up to capitalism and the industrial revolution.
Know that this book is heavily based on previous works from the same author and offers little new information so you might want to skip it if you already read Bearing False Witness or some of the other books by Stark.