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

4.6 out of 5 stars
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on August 15, 2016
An amazing work of scholarship that is very readable, This sweeping history covers world civilisation from its beginning in Mesopotamia to the mid-twentieth century. The book is divided into epochs of hundreds of years and describes the civilisation of each period in the different parts of the world: The​ West ( Europe and later the Americas), the Middle East, India and Asia. The origins of the major world religions and their interactions over centuries are especially interesting.
Although published in the 1960's this work remains a classic.
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on August 8, 2016
This is a wonderful telling of the human story from cave man days to the modern era, condensed to 800 pages. The theme of the writer, William H. McNeill, is how societies advance through cross-cultural challenge and exchange. This theme unifies the discussion of various empires and epochs, because each history is explored in relationship to the larger world. Despite the broad brush strokes, McNeill still provides fascinating detail as he touches down on particular times and places. This detail engages the reader and invites further reading in areas of special interest, as well as reflection and discussion respecting contemporary issues.
Here is an example:
"Within surprisingly few decades, the most active center of innovative activity shifted from China to the Atlantic face of Europe. Before 1500, capitalists achieved remarkable autonomy within the walls of a few Italian and north European city-states; and even after that political framework decayed, urban sovereignties in Europe continued to give merchants and bankers almost unhampered scope or expansion of market activity, whereas in China, and also in most of the Moslim world, regimes unsympathetic to private capitalist accumulation prevailed. In the name of good government, Asian rulers effectively checked the rise of large-scale entrepreneurship by confiscatory taxation on the one hand, and by regulation of prices in the interest of consumers on the other. This left large-scale commercial enterprise, and presently also mining and plantation agriculture, more and more to the Europeans. Consequently, the rise of the West to its world hegemony of recent centuries got underway." (p.xxviii)
McNeill emphasizes the ingenuity and social progress that follows the release of peasant classes from serfdom:
"Thus, for example, pikemen recruited from the towns of northern Italy and later from the villages of Switzerland challenged the military supremacy of aristocratic knights from the twelfth century onward, while in the fourteenth century, the cream of French chivalry could not prevail against English bowmen, recruited originally from the poverty-stricken Welsh marchlands. As for politics, such representative institutions as the English Parliament, the French Estates-General, and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, all brought varied social groups into the highest arenas of the political process.
"The result was to mobilize greater human resources within European society than was possible within the more rigidly hierarchical societies of the other civilized lands. The Greek democratic polis of the classical age had shown for a brief period the potentialities of a small community of free men and citizens. Western Europe was neither so free nor so intensely creative; yet there, too, we can perhaps detect the stimulating effect of circumstances that called forth conflicting energies of a larger proportion of the total population than could ever find expression in a society dominated by just a few individuals of comparatively homogeneous, though much more refined, outlook." (p.558-559)
McNeill's walk through human history provides a solid framework for the study of history, and a clearer view of our own times. I definitely recommend it, especially for young adults. They are the heirs of this world; and they will write the history of the next century.
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on June 17, 2016
I love this book. 60 years old but still insightful. It is also a delight to read and reread. The author emphasise that different cultures have been in contact with each other through history.

Too advanced for current universities. The author has a dumbed down version written together with his son some 15 years ago. Stay away from that book
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on March 20, 2016
This book should be mandatory for anyone who wants to understand the broad sweep of history that has led to the current world.
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on October 28, 2015
William McNeill is the first book to read in the study of World Historiography. This is an essential read.
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on July 5, 2015
It's a good job.
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on April 4, 2015
A great book to read about western civilization.... so far....
It's a slow read because it's so packed with material... and I find myself having to flick back a lot in reference as the civilization grinds on.... but the author is thorough... and there's probably no way to make this story anything but thorough....
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on March 14, 2015
a great piiece of scholarship but not a history of the West. See Kenneth Clark, Civilization: a personal view or even, though not a scholarly work, Roger Osborne, Civilization: a new history of the Western world.
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on January 3, 2015
I read this book when it was first published in the early sixties. It is a superb history of the 'rise of the west'. It is unlike other histories I have read- Julius Caesar get a paragraph; Christ gets a chapter. It is worth a read.
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on September 3, 2014
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