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The Measure of Civilization

How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

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In the last thirty years, there have been fierce debates over how civilizations develop and why the West became so powerful. The Measure of Civilization presents a brand-new way of investigating these questions and provides new tools for assessing the long-term growth of societies. Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris sets forth a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century.

Adapting the United Nations' approach for measuring human development, Morris's index breaks social development into four traits--energy capture per capita, organization, information technology, and war-making capacity--and he uses archaeological, historical, and current government data to quantify patterns. Morris reveals that for 90 percent of the time since the last ice age, the world's most advanced region has been at the western end of Eurasia, but contrary to what many historians once believed, there were roughly 1,200 years--from about 550 to 1750 CE--when an East Asian region was more advanced. Only in the late eighteenth century CE, when northwest Europeans tapped into the energy trapped in fossil fuels, did the West leap ahead.

Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends.

From Publishers Weekly

Nov 12, 2012 – Stanford University classicist and historian Morris follows up Why the West Rules—for Now with a sophisticated volume designed to add quantitative muscle to his earlier arguments. A big-history theorist working in a vein similar to Niall Ferguson or Jared Diamond, Morris measures societies’ historical “abilities to get things done in the world.” With an impressive data array, he calibrates energy resources, social organization, war-making capacity, and information technology over time to compare the East and West. In the 21st century, he foresees a shift in global power and wealth from West to East, much as it shifted from East to West in the 19th. Morris argues from a materialist view to frame social development, minimizing the achievements of European civilization. His graphic display of energy use, for example, illustrates why the Industrial Revolution in Europe reshaped the economic world as no event did before it, though Morris seems more interested in Song China’s early metallurgy. The author’s grand narrative of Western and Eastern hegemony is less determined than he might have it, and his proposition that “cultural peculiarities of the two regions did not make much of a difference” in development is highly contestable. However, the ingenuity and style of his arguments will make economists and historians stand up and take notice.
The Measure of Civilization
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  • $14.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Jan 27, 2013
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 400 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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