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Just as I would rather live strenuously and die soon than fester indefinitely in inert contentment, so I should rather belong to a civilization which changes the world, at risk of self-immolation, than to a modestly "sustainable" society. Just as I would rather join a war or a movement of "protest" than submit to superior force, so I want to be part of a society keen to challenge nature, rather than submissively to remain "at one" with her in static equilibrium.

Dazzling ambition is better than modest achievement. If you listen too hard for cosmic harmonies, you never hear the music sent up to god by the lover and the bard. It's also pretty incredible considering that civilizations generally destroy more cultures than they create, making this about as illogical as an idea can ever be, frankly. As for the previous statement about going on a "cosmic binge", it's one thing to say that shit happens every few thousand years, like asteroid strikes or volcanic eruptions, and therefore if our societies last that long they're about as sustainable as it realistically matters although even that would be kind of pushing it in my opinion but glorifying the most insanely wasteful and unjust lifestyles and mocking those who are happy to live simply is completely nuts.

And it gets worse. He also says that environmentalists worrying about humans destroying the planet has more to do with our arrogance about the power of our species than scientific analysis and that "most extinctions happen despite us, not because of us. View 2 comments.

Apr 08, Timothy rated it liked it Shelves: history. I found this book both captivating and difficult -- the author is a skilled writer and wonderfully evocative with his description, emotional language, and sense of placing everything in it's context. However, one wonders if some of his assertions are perhaps solely his own rather than verfiable as "fact. At times I must confess myself somewhat lost -- I am not the expert I wish I was in all regions or all epochs of history.

I was particularly intrigued by his scheme for classification and comparison -- selecting civilizations by environment type. Hope others enjoy this book! Jun 24, Dennis rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: environmentalists, students of history. An historian's look at the dialectic of environment and civilization. Also a good antidote to Jared Diamond's environmental determinism. Fernandez-Armesto is an excellent writer, and though this is a dense, long book, his style makes reading a joy.

It is rich in information and detail that exposes new ideas and new ways of looking at world history. Most of his other books most recently "Pathfinders" are excellent as well. If you want to know who you are and the where and why you came to be, th An historian's look at the dialectic of environment and civilization. If you want to know who you are and the where and why you came to be, this is a book for you. Feb 16, Adam marked it as abandoned Shelves: mudd-library , non-fiction , history.


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This book is interesting and fun, but it very assiduously avoids making any points explicitly - the author frames it as a fun intellectual adventure he undertook without any real agenda, and this is felt throughout. So while there are takeaway points - history is complex and much of what you know about it is burdened with value judgments that impair deduction from it; the term civilization should be defined on a spectrum, revealing many examples with broadly diverse histories; environment shapes This book is interesting and fun, but it very assiduously avoids making any points explicitly - the author frames it as a fun intellectual adventure he undertook without any real agenda, and this is felt throughout.

So while there are takeaway points - history is complex and much of what you know about it is burdened with value judgments that impair deduction from it; the term civilization should be defined on a spectrum, revealing many examples with broadly diverse histories; environment shapes civilizations and is shaped by them, but variation between societies in similar environments belies any determinism that is insufficiently caveated and nuanced. It just didn't keep my attention - it's pages long and gets repetitive. It doesn't make any points, and it doesn't go into much detail, and each section only includes, it seems, aspects of the society that the author found interesting or romantic.

That's great, and it gave the book a really nicely romantic and foreign feel while thoroughly avoiding Orientalist notions. This was a nicely walked line. But it just got boring, and other things took my attention away. I've tried twice now, and maybe I'll finish one day, but it seems unlikely. Incidentally, this is the only book I've read lately that gave me the chance to keep a list of words to look up. A fascinating book based on a simple thesis: "civilization" should be seen as a cultural including technological adaptation to a society's natural environment.

This definition broadens the term considerably, allowing Fernandez-Armesto to explore a much wider range of societies than the "high cultures" normally found in these kinds of general histories. It makes it all the more exciting when he presents the more familiar civilizations in this context, as it simultaneously drives home the sophis A fascinating book based on a simple thesis: "civilization" should be seen as a cultural including technological adaptation to a society's natural environment.

It makes it all the more exciting when he presents the more familiar civilizations in this context, as it simultaneously drives home the sophistication of their adaptations and reminds us that their celebrated strategies were just one possible approach to their natural constraints. Fernandez-Armesto manages to illustrate the power of ecology over society while also recognizing the enormous cultural diversity in dealing with that power. Mar 07, Mark rated it really liked it Shelves: history.

This book was very interesting, and different, all for the way the author categorizes civilizations- not necc. And it works really well. I took my time reading it, each chapter is well compressed so that you can read it, as I did, in little chunks throughout the day, without becoming too bogg This book was very interesting, and different, all for the way the author categorizes civilizations- not necc.

I took my time reading it, each chapter is well compressed so that you can read it, as I did, in little chunks throughout the day, without becoming too bogged down.

Work in progress

Good stuff. May 23, Crystal rated it it was amazing. I really enjoyed Fernandez-Armesto's fresh look at "civilizations" as an antidote to the eurocentric view that is still taught in school. Full disclosure: I've taught it! That's one reason I was interested in this book in the first place. The only disappointment was the ending, in that the book was published in , so describes the future of civilizations in a pre world. A fun read. Looking at civilizations from the point of view of the environments in which they exist is a pleasantly different perspective from the usual chronological and hierarchical progression.

Civilization

And the fact that the book is made up of a series of anecdotes makes it very pleasant to read. Mar 04, ! Oct 10, Arya rated it really liked it Recommends it for: historians, sociologist. It is a good book to know well the phase of human civilization in the world history. Jul 07, Marijan rated it it was amazing Shelves: owned.

A good book. I enjoyed and was informed a great deal by this text. Aug 07, Andrew rated it liked it. The introductory chapter of the book blew my mind. The author eloquently relates the history of 20th century "civilization thinking" and then, theory by theory, cuts them all down. All prior ideas have glaring shortcomings, they are: self-aggrandizing, teleological, short-cited, and rely on dubious definitions of what exactly a civilization makes. This author proposes that what really drives civilizations is an impulse to separate from the environment.

So far, so good, but then the book begins. T The introductory chapter of the book blew my mind. The book is ordered by environmental settings: ice, desert, swamp, highland, coast, etc. About two hundred pages in I grew very weary of the book. There was nothing to tie any of these sections together or the societies offered as examples. The selection seems so arbitrary that I could be reading about any place.

I kept on thinking that this would make a great PBS documentary entitled "Unconsidered Civilizations" or something such. While I thought all of these societies were interesting the intervention of the book, at this point, seemed less constructive than illustrative: there are many civilizations to talk about besides the ones you always read about: here are a bunch of them. OK, I get this, but then the author seems to undercut his own writing by suggesting that some adaptions to nature perhaps don't quite qualify as civilization. This comes across in the authors tones and descriptions, and his continued comparison of one civilization to another and implications that civilizations can improve or decline.

A term he claims to abhor in the discussion of civilizations. On the Arctic: "In certain environments, it seems, civilization is an irrational strategy and it is better to defer to nature than to try and warp her to men's ways. Though this quote appears directed at European colonists aborted or energy-intensive settlements in the Arctic, it implies that the first examples of civilization in this book: the indigenous people perhaps don't really qualify as civilization.

If the defining mark of a civilization is simply working with or against nature, in some presumably peculiar way, to hammer out a toehold for humanity, how can a civilization dim? The dynamic days of Tibetan civilization were over. There seems to be more at foot in the author's civilization then he implies in the opening and closing arguments.

At other times the author seems unclear as to his own arguments. He argues against the concept of "Indo-European" language only in order to continue to use it to categorize civilizations. He implies that Ethiopia was isolated by its religion, but then goes on to emphasize shifting trade networks. Although these two factors could be reasonably related, the history of Mediterranean and Eurasian trade is defined by religions cooperating, often while or between periods of feuding, in order to sustain the profits generated by trade. Some civilizations, such as Great Zimbabwe, seem included mostly because of their monumental building, which partway through the the book it becomes clear is one of the author's secret criteria, along with written language.

Or take this quote on Papuans: "They had no access to metals they could use for tools, so their civilization was stuck in the Stone Age. On the one hand, the author is simply stating a fact: a society is only out of the Stone Age when they have Bronze, Iron, or some other qualifying metal to use as tools. If stones are enough to make a civilization, why lament when a culture only has stone tools? Yet it is hard to avoid such traps when writing such a world history.

Perhaps, then, the author should stick to what he knows best rather than attempt such a grand narrative. My favorite part of the book were undoubtedly chapters fifteen and sixteen. The author's knowledge of sea travel in the era concerned was strong, convincing, and avoided the muddiness that consumes the author's other historical explanations. Winds and ocean daring had a very strong causation in affecting how and when the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans were crossed. The comparison between highland civilizations in the Americas was also strong. In sum, the book is an interesting survey of civilizations or societies?

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But I was left with little better way to identify a civilization. If the term is worthless, which it very well may be, this book didn't do much to set it to sleep. If we want the term to be broader, perhaps it would hurt to be a little more constructive in model building, but I don't think this author has much of a desire to attempt anything more positivistic. An immensely impressive work. Its hard to imagine the effort needed to pull this epic exploration of human civilizations off. I have to admit that it was slow going in the beginning; as I found myself wandering around his recitations of the various "civilizations" that he describes according to his definition of civilization.

Its a broad definition, focused on the a people's ability to change the world around them in order to create a viable life for themselves. Thus he takes the reader on a glo An immensely impressive work.

Thus he takes the reader on a global adventure visiting locations grouped according to their geographic and landscape similarities. Thus ocean, savanah, desert, etc examples of civilizations around the world from pre-history to the present day. The descriptions are detailed, encompassing so many disciplines that the experience is that of being involved in the most erudite dinner conversation possible. The book livened up with its entry into, for me anyway, more inviting or comfortable environs, the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

The author is mainly optimistic about our chances for survival, his last chapter opening up a discussion of what kind of civilization might evolve in the future. In his view it comes down to either a Pacific Civilization, anchored and connected via links that have been impossible till the 20th century, or some kind of global civilization that melds western, eastern and everything in between. He argues that the dominance of western civilization is problematic given stresses and reactions against that dominance in the west and emerging areas of the world, notwithstanding western culture's and business' influence.

Or perhaps none will emerge, that the current system will maintain itself as national identities and cultural influences and traditions strengthen.

Civilization - Wikipedia

He highlights Japan as a model. I enjoyed this adventure, and it qualified as an interesting and valuable book because it makes the reader think about the world around him as he reads it, and perhaps question some basic premises and assumptions about humanity. Sep 30, Kathleen rated it it was ok. This was a toughie. I actually bought this book a couple of years ago, and had been saving it like a special dessert, for when I had time to really get down and savor it, along with Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which had read and found fascinating.

But this turned out to be a no-go for me. The author is a mind-bendingly erudite scholar who has come up with what he imagines is a brilliant, revolutionary way of looking at culture and history -- which is to 'classify' cultures by t Whew. For all I know, he might be correct. But after skipping about pages where he goes on and on and on about 'what is culture' -- even admitting ahead of time that he is going to go on and on and on, and suggesting that readers might like to skip ahead.

I mean, if he knows people are going to skip it, why include it? Admittedly, he talked about a lot of pretty interesting civilization I have never heard of, which was cool. But I just got lost in it all, failed to see the point and, after skimming the chapters later in the book that sounded promising but were just as long and convoluted and dull as the earlier ones I just packed it in.


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Sorry, Sr Fernandez-Armesto. I hope some other scholars read your book. You put a lot of work into it. But I just couldn't wade through it Jul 17, John rated it it was amazing. Not the best or most comprehensive history of civilizations out there, but definitely a unique one. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto believes that a society or alternately, a culture becomes a civilization when it adapts its environment not just to meet its vital needs, but to allow it to realize its socio-cultural aspirations.

It is his belief that environment informs culture, and that the physical and climactic surroundings of a people are the primary factors in determining what cultures and societi Not the best or most comprehensive history of civilizations out there, but definitely a unique one. It is his belief that environment informs culture, and that the physical and climactic surroundings of a people are the primary factors in determining what cultures and societies those people develop, and whether or not they are able to effectively transform their environments and become civilizations.

In the book he identifies types of environments based on vital factors like average sunlight, amount of rainfall, availability of food crops, growing seasons, etc. Jun 27, Sarah Finch rated it really liked it. A far-reaching yet narrowly focused examination of what determines the characteristics of varying civilizations, this is a challenging and ultimately satisfying trip through time and across continents as the author seeks to get at the heart of how nature and geography affect given peoples.

At A far-reaching yet narrowly focused examination of what determines the characteristics of varying civilizations, this is a challenging and ultimately satisfying trip through time and across continents as the author seeks to get at the heart of how nature and geography affect given peoples.

At times he seems to be reaching towards conclusions that are not on the most solid ground, but he never ceases to make the reader think. Psychology and Aging Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Capital and Interest. Volumes Buchanan, James M. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Chambers, Dustin, and Susan Hamer. Culture and Growth: Some Empirical Evidence.

Bulletin of Economic Research 64 4 : Collingwood, R. London: Oxford University Press. Ecology and Society 15 4 : De Soto, Hernando. London: Black Swan. Diamond, Jared. New York: Viking Press. DiLorenzo, Thomas J. Easterly, William, and Ross Levine. Journal of Monetary Economics 50 1 : Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Blackwell. Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature.

New York: Simon and Shuster.


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