Biology, sociology and geography: Tracking humanity's trajectory.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future - Book review

Why the West Rules - For Now

The patterns of history and what they reveal about the future

By lan Morris

[pounds sterling] 25 Profile

ISBN: 978-1-84668-147-9


The novelist CS Lewis was said to have remarked that, for him, there was no cup of tea too large or a book too long. He would have heartily approved of this book; it is a mammoth 645-page-long volume plus a further 77 pages of bibliography. Little wonder that the economist-historian Niall Ferguson described Why the West Rules - For Now as "the nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to get".

The British-educated author Ian Morris holds three highly prestigious titles at Stanford University in the US. He is the Willard Professor of Classics, Professor of History and a fellow of the Archaeology Centre at this world-renowned institution. He has authored many academic books, but this is his first book aimed fairly and squarely at a general readership.

Morris draws together multidisciplinary threads to weave a narrative that is both expertly argued and entertaining. Its subject is probably the most talked-about shift in global power in recent history - the inexorable rise of the East and how long it will take to overtake the West. Morris, in attempting to answer this question, takes the view that in order to forecast the future you must understand the past.

There is quite a large body of previous research, reaching back to the 19th century, that has attempted to unravel the mystery of the pre-eminence of the West, and generally it has arrived at one of two conclusions. The first is known as the 'lock-in' theory, which basically holds that genealogy is the defining difference between East and West; the second is that it is purely chance or even accidental. Morris dismisses both, arguing that humanity is essentially similar the world over, and plumps for geography as the main factor in how the modern world has developed.

All the evidence suggests that man's origins are common, and can be traced back to Africa before East and West had any meaning. Not only does our author rule out race-based theories of superiority, regarding "local variations of skin type, face shape, height, lactose intolerance and countless other things that have appeared in two thousand generations since man began to spread all over the globe" - but he also does a pretty good job in demolishing the multi-regional theories, such as those held by some Chinese...

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