I have recently finished reading Why the West rules for Now by Ian Morris a 600 page book which attempts to unify the fields socialogy, geography, anthropology, history and biology to explore the whole of human development from the beginning to understand why the ‘west’ rules and how long that is likely to last with the current and continual rise of China, Japan and India.
Using a self devised unit of measurement called the index of social development Morris tracks different civilisations in the east and west from the dawn of human existance to track why the west rules. The overall conclusion, which is that repeated frequently throughout the book, is that change and progress is facilitated by ‘lazy, greedy, frightened people who rarely know what they are doing looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things’ but ultimately that geography explains why since 1800 the ‘west’ rules.
Overall it is a interesting theory but trying to cover the broad church of history in both the east and west makes the book seem disjointed and the author continually admitting that outside his own field of history and archology he is an enthusiastic amateur doesn’t help.
The concept that Morris advances and promotes in this books does make sense but as it is based on his own unit of measurement it would be strange indeed if it did not. I did enjoy this synthesis of history although I believe it helped that personally I have a wide knowledge of different historical events and cultures and for those without that understanding the entire book would be an incoherant jumble of facts. Niall Ferguson asserts that Morris’ book is ‘the nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to get’ and I agree – close but no coconut.