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Why the West Rules – for Now

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Why the West Rules – for Now

The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

What forces allowed Western civilization to overtake Eastern civilization, and why this critical balance may tip.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


This panoramic history offers formidable reading about the comparative development of Western and Eastern civilizations. It catalogs significant archeological, scientific and political events of 16,000 years of human history and several millennia in the life of the planet. Historian Ian Morris explains the forces that allowed Western civilization to overtake Eastern civilization and why this critical balance may now be tipping in favor of the East. This is high-quality academic scholarship: an interdisciplinary analysis, tying together esoteric facts and maps spanning geography, historical theories, paleontology, climatology, archeology and politics. Morris’s book supports his detailed “index of social development” model comparing the evolution of Eastern and Western civilizations. His construct relies on recounting detailed history, analysis and comparisons. This can be challenging reading, albeit leavened by Morris’s visible scholarship and entertaining style. You have to want to finish this book, but if you are a serious reader of history, getAbstract assures you that the effort has very substantial rewards – and if you are building up your ambitions it also makes for fascinating skimming.


Who Rules and Why?

The “index of social development” measures “a group’s ability to master its physical and intellectual environment to get things done.” This model enables a comparison of the unfolding of Eastern and Western civilizations by measuring technology, the ability to wage war, urbanization and energy capture per person in the form of daily consumption of calories. Tracking these developments creates a basis for comparing the Western civilization that developed in Europe, North America and the Mediterranean Basin with the Eastern one that emerged in the Far East. This model quantifies these comparisons over the flow of history to explain why the West was more developed than the East for most of the past 16 millennia. While the answer is complex and can be politically sensitive, it does not reside in either predestination or accident. The West emerged stronger due to geography and development patterns involving the performance of individuals and societies since the advent of prehumans millions of years ago.

Comparing Civilizations

From 10,800 BC onward, development in the East and West followed similar patterns, despite a time lag between them of ...

About the Author

Ian Morris teaches classics and history at Stanford University, where he is an Archeology Centre fellow. His books include The Greeks and The Dynamics of Ancient Empires.

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