Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Civilization: the West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

I’ve come over all “killer app” today and recorded my review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization in podcast form.  If you’d rather stick with the written word, click here for a transcript.

Allen Lane, hardback, 402 pp.  ISBN: 978-1846142734

Civilization is also available in audio and Kindle e-book form.

14 comments on “Civilization: the West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

  1. John
    August 30, 2011

    I must admit I was chicken enough to read the transcript. Ferguson seems to be highly reactionary in his views. I often suspect him of being deliberately provocative. The West’s period of dominance may well be coming (or has already come) to an end with the long term relative decline of the United States occurring at the same time as stagnation and crisis in Europe. Hopefully, this context will give rise to a generation of ‘proper’ historians who do no opt for easy metanarratives which gloss over uncomfortable aspects of the past and have some humility about them. I liked your review immensely in that it drew attention to the shoddiness of the way he presents his partial picture. Many thanks as ever, John.

  2. kirstyjane
    August 30, 2011

    Thank you very much, John, for the kind comment — and I’m very much interested to hear your views on Ferguson’s work.

  3. Moira
    August 30, 2011

    Mmm. “The West and the Rest” definitely smells of what a professor of mine used to call ‘slipshod shorthand’ – going for snappy, alliterative or echoic phrases because you like the sound of it, irrespective of whether or not it’s entirely informative or strictly accurate.

    It’s too easy to assume that everyone knows what “The West” is and therefore, by definition, also what constitutes “The Rest” … but a moment’s thought tells you that’s far too simplistic – even for a ‘popular’ work. As you quite rightly point out, there’s Russia – to name but one of the grey areas between The West and The Rest.

    Thought-provoking piece, Kirsty. Thank you.

  4. kirstyjane
    August 30, 2011

    Moira, I like the sound of that professor!

    Civilization does contain a great deal of wordplay, alliteration and snappy phrases — which is fine, in its measure, but adds to the superficiality of the whole…

  5. Lisa
    August 30, 2011

    Well, I don’t know about Mr Ferguson being on the telly, but you certainly should be with that voice and very articulate delivery. I thought this was really interesting, Kirsty. And I agree with Moira about the slipshod shorthand. To my ear, “The West and the Rest” sounds horribly snooty and superior in tone.

    Anyway, can all your reviews be podcasts from now on, please? Just the thing as I was feeding the foxlet her lunch. She was paying attention too, I swear . . .

  6. kirstyjane
    August 30, 2011

    Awww thanks, comrade L! Glad you enjoyed in spite of my odd quasi-Morningside accent (I’m from Fife, I swear). And hello to the Foxlet!

  7. Hilary
    August 30, 2011

    Really enjoyed this review, Comrade K, in both its versions – especially the podcast, which was very well done.

    This has to be about the most provocative title/subtitle that I could possibly imagine, and I find it off-putting. I’ve not read the book yet, but already the cliches are crowding in on me, just from the subtitle. Hubris; hostage to fortune; are we inhabiting the same planet? Etc etc. I am amazed that Ferguson can look around him at what is happening today, especially the rise of China as an economic force the like of which it is hard (for me) to imagine and choose this discourse. Just how helpful is this meta-narrative, apart from providing a great big heap of sand in which to bury one’s head?

    Suppose I’d better read it 😦 At the moment I haven’t tried it because I don’t like it … one little bit …

  8. Jackie
    August 30, 2011

    Thanks for the transcript! I was worried I’d have to miss this because of my hearing-impairment, but you’ve made it accessible for everyone. Yay!
    Was the author trying to write in a retro sort of style? Because the terms & attitude are more appropriate for decades past instead of today’s global interactions. I wonder if he wanted to tackle the big subjects without properly researching them & that’s why he resorted to the speedy skipping style? It really sounds like the book didn’t live up to expectations & I find it odd that a TV program was made from such a shallow book.

  9. kirstyjane
    August 31, 2011

    Good question, comrade J. Well, the book is actually near-identical with the TV script. I think they were probably conceived as one project. Thanks for your comments and glad you enjoyed the transcript!

    Comrade H, Ferguson does incorporate the rise of China at some length in his narrative, but as far as I can tell this is attributed (as with Japan) to the adoption of “Western” values. It was Ferguson who co-invented the term Chimerica:

    I think this particular meta-narrative — which is really, really, REALLY not my chosen model of historical discourse — could at least stimulate debate if Ferguson were to show his workings. In fact, I have enjoyed reading some of Ferguson’s earlier stuff. I don’t tend to agree with his conclusions and I certainly work off different assumptions — we all have them and it must be said of Ferguson that he is pretty open about his — but intelligent analysis from any perspective should always be a welcome thing. That’s why I aimed to concentrate on questions of methodology and style in my review, because whether or not I agree with Ferguson’s ideology (proclaimed or supposed) is not the most interesting thing — as well as being fairly obvious to start with!

  10. kirstyjane
    August 31, 2011

    (It occurs to me all this “comrading” may look slightly odd to any non-regular readers visiting the site. It is an affectionate injoke based on my research topic — well, I hope it’s affectionate…!)

  11. elizabethashworth
    November 13, 2011

    That was very enjoyable and interesting to listen to ‘Comrade’ Kirsty. The idea of West and the Rest, whilst making a snappy soundbite, does seem too simplified. And as you rightly ask, what about Russia? As far as the scientific thread is concerned, they were ahead of the ‘West’ in space exploration. So does Ferguson view Russia as ‘West’ or ‘Rest’?

  12. Pingback: VL Podcast transcript: Civilization by Niall Ferguson « Kirsty Jane McCluskey

  13. Pingback: The personal is political is professional? Niall Ferguson, libel and the LRB. « Vulpes Libris

  14. Frederick
    February 7, 2014

    I would suggest that the writings of Henry Giroux are a very suitable antidote to any and everything that this highly over-rated propaganda hack/shill has to say.
    And Tomdispatch too.

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