• Civilization

  • The West and the Rest
  • By: Niall Ferguson
  • Narrated by: Niall Ferguson
  • Length: 13 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 12-09-11
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.4 (172 ratings)


The unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Niall Ferguson's provocative best seller, Civilization: The West and the Rest, read brilliantly by the author himself.
If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople. By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs and Incas. The idea that the West would come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half millennium would have struck you as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened.What was it about the civilization of Western Europe that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, was that the West developed six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The key question today is whether or not the West has lost its monopoly on these six things. If so, Ferguson warns, we may be living through the end of Western ascendancy. Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world - from the Grand Canal at Nanjing to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; from Machu Picchu in the Andes to Shark Island, Namibia; from the proud towers of Prague to the secret churches of Wenzhou. It is the story of sailboats, missiles, land deeds, vaccines, blue jeans and Chinese Bibles. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.
©2011 Niall Ferguson (P)2011 Penguin Books Limited
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Critic reviews

"One of the world's leading historians." (Hamish McRae, Independent)
This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio - Andrew Marr, Financial Times
A dazzling history of Western ideas - Economist
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 28-04-12

Very entertaining, interesting and informative

Reviews of this book on Amazon are mixed but I have always liked Niall Ferguson's wwork so took the plunge. I am glad I did so. I thoroughly enjoyed the book - full of interesting facts and anecdotes, novel and thought-provoking ideas, global in scope and outlook, and very well written. I was genuinely sorry when it finished and I am sure I will read it again.

A real bonus is the excellent narration by the author himself. He was clearly enjoying himeself, does all the accents very entertainly, paces himself perfectly, and his enthusiasm and energy come through loud and clear. Tremendous stuff.

Strongly recommended, particularly if you like history.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Judy Corstjens on 28-07-15

Quite hard work

There are (these days) history books that romp along and build up a convincing story in your head. This one didn't quite achieve that for me; it started slipping into a list of events. Thus I found myself having to re-listen three of four times and force myself to concentrate. Mr Ferguson does try to make it easier by defining the 'killer apps' of Western civilisation, and then structuring the book around these killer apps, but the killer apps are not quite as clear-cut and illuminating as you might hope. Still, a good set of thoughts; I enjoyed the amount of time spent on clothes and the textile industry and the importance of consumer society to our modern civilisation.

Narration. Ferguson does a fine job on the general narration, but falls down on the (extended and numerous) quotations. They are all done in the same, slightly nasal, all-purpose 'foreign' accent, from Bolivia to Japan. Quite bizarre.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By scmathew on 31-03-13

Oooh, me accent's slippin'!

The Good:

I personally tend to find Professor Ferguson's political leanings distasteful and don't necessarily agree with his ultimate conclusions but this is a good book. Ferguson's overview of the institutional strengths that allowed Western Europe to pull ahead of China, India and the Middle East is valid, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I appreciated the wealth of interesting anecdotes from obscure nooks and corners of history that made this a superb piece of narrative history. As a review of post-Medieval Western Civ, this is a must-read.

The Meh:

As I said earlier I'm not exactly a fan of Ferguson's ideological leanings but this is besides the point- at times Ferguson's smug self-satisfaction with the glories of Western Civ can grate a bit (speaking as an Asian listener) but I have to admit that he's fair in his assessment of how la mission civilisatrice often went horribly wrong, notably in the part of his narrative that concerns German colonial atrocities against the Herero. I do note, however that he steers well clear of any analysis of the British Empire in this section but I suppose he couldn't put his nostalgia aside. Fair enough- in all other respects a generally balanced text.

The Bad:

The narration. Dear god, the narration. Ferguson has a pleasant speaking voice and he uses it well...but for some reason he decided to do the accents for all the bits of quoted text. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a problem- Nadia May does a great job with the accents in The Guns of August- but Ferguson can't do accents to save his life! French, Russians and Germans get read out in what devolves into a strangely blended Jamaican patois. And when he quote from East Asian sources he does so in a hilarious Charlie Chan-esque 'me so solly' accent. It funny the first few times but quickly becomes jarring.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Lauren L on 03-02-17

An illuminating wide-angled telescope

You don't have to agree with Mr Ferguson's every word to find this a fascinating and perspective-tilting wide-angled telescope on five hundred years of history. Brilliant narration by the author. Highly recommended!

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