The patterns of history and what they reveal about the Future
Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its global supremacy.
Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many people think that the emerging economic power of China and India spells the end of the West supremacy. Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new thoughts on these questions in his fascinating book Why The West Rules – For Now, published in 2011. It can be a nice book to read over the holiday period.
It is not, Morris argues, differences of race or culture, or even the ambitions of great individuals, that explain Western dominance. It is the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate. As geography and human ingenuity continue to interact, the world will change in astonishing ways, Morris predicts, transforming Western rule in the process.
Deeply researched and brilliantly argued, Why the West Rules—for Now spans fifty thousand years of history and offers insights on nearly every page. The book brings together the latest findings across disciplines, from ancient history to neuroscience, not only to explain why the West came to rule the world but also to predict what the future will bring in the next hundred years.
The world did not use to be as populated as it is now. World population has exploded in the past 100 years and it is expected to level out at 11 billion humans later this century. Two fascinating charts from the book which illustrates this are inserted below. They show the worlds biggest cities in the west and in the east, over time, and with the estimated population (in thousands) in brackets.
In the chart we can see the heights of civilisations. Rome rose quickly and had one million inhabitants at its peak. As the Roman Empire declined the population halved, and by the dark ages Cordoba was the largest city in the west, with one fifth of the population Rome had one thousand years earlier. At the same time the civilisation in China reached its peak. By 1500, after the black plague, Constantinople was the largest city in the west, with one tenth the population of ancient Rome.