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The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963)

by William H. McNeill

Other authors: Béla Petheö (Illustrator)

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604628,642 (4.15)33
The Rise of the West, winner of the National Book Award for history in 1964, is famous for its ambitious scope and intellectual rigor. In it, McNeill challenges the Spengler-Toynbee view that a number of separate civilizations pursued essentially independent careers, and argues instead that human cultures interacted at every stage of their history. The author suggests that from the Neolithic beginnings of grain agriculture to the present major social changes in all parts of the world were triggered by new or newly important foreign stimuli, and he presents a persuasive narrative of world history to support this claim. In a retrospective essay titled "The Rise of the West after Twenty-five Years," McNeill shows how his book was shaped by the time and place in which it was written (1954-63). He discusses how historiography subsequently developed and suggests how his portrait of the world's past in The Rise of the West should be revised to reflect these changes. "This is not only the most learned and the most intelligent, it is also the most stimulating and fascinating book that has ever set out to recount and explain the whole history of mankind. . . . To read it is a great experience. It leaves echoes to reverberate, and seeds to germinate in the mind."--H. R. Trevor-Roper, New York Times Book Review… (more)

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Showing 5 of 5
Covering approximately 7000 years of civilization over the entire world in less than 900 pages for a general audience is a tall order. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by W.H. McNeill was written over 50 years ago that changed historical analysis by challenging the leading theories of the day and influenced the study of global history ever since.

McNeill divides his narrative in three parts: the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia to 500 B.C., the cultural balance of Eurasia from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., and the era of Western dominance since 1500 A.D. Every corner of the world is discusses, but the dominance is in the Eurasia “ecumene” that feature the interaction between for the four great civilizations of the Middle East (including Egypt), India, China, and finally Europe (starting in Greece before slowly moving West). Throughout McNeill highlights the interplay between cultural, political, and economical factors of each civilization as well as how they interacted and influenced each other.

The interaction and influences between different civilizations to McNeill’s narrative as he challenged the theory of the rise and fall of independent civilizations that did not influence one another. Because of the length of both of the book and time frame covered, McNeill did not go into a detail history instead focusing on trends and important historical moments that may or may not involve historical actors like Alexander or Genghis Khan. Yet information is outdated as new sources or archaeological evidence has changed our understanding of several civilizations over the last 50 years.

The Rise of the West takes a long time to read, however the information—though outdated in places—gives the reader a great overview of world history on every point of the globe. W.H. McNeill’s well-researched book is not a dry read and in giving a good background on numerous civilizations giving the reader a solid foundation if they ever decide to go more in-depth on any civilization. ( )
  mattries37315 | Mar 23, 2018 |
The Rise of the West is nearly fifty years old now, and the research on which it rests is considerably older than that. Many of its ideas about the ebb and flow of world history have been modified, or set aside, in the decades since McNeill put them on paper, and much of the factual information on which they rest is now outdated at best. This is not a book to buy, or read, as a reference.

And none of that -- absolutely none of that -- matters. The Rise of the West is the first scholarly book for general audiences, and one of first for anyone, to take the notion of world history seriously, and to treat the history of the world as something more than the sum of the histories of its kingdoms and empires. It is a classic of the genre -- and world historians should read it for the same reasons that biologists should read On the Origin of Species: because even after all these years, the ideas and the writing retain their power and their ability to thrill. Five decades on, the book remains breathtaking in its scope, compelling in its narrative, and fascinating in its theory of history: a vision of change over time in which environment, trade, and the exchange of ideas and technologies play crucial roles. It still feels radical -- challenging to our insistence that the proper unity of analysis in history is the individual -- and I literally cannot imagine how it must have seemed to readers, in 1963, raised on a dates-and-dynasties view of the past.

I've been a professional historian for roughly half my life; this is one of the books that shaped the way I think about history. Even if you're just interested in history, though, this one is well worth your time. ( )
5 vote ABVR | Jan 4, 2012 |
EAYAA
  JohnMeeks | Apr 17, 2010 |
1382 The Rise of the West A History of the Human Community, by William H. McNeill (read 23 Mar 1976) (National Book Award History prize for 1964) This is a sheerly fascinating book, beginning with the first days of man, and tracing the history of civilization to the present. I have been reading history all my life but much herein is totally new to me. The book has three parts: I - The Era of Middle Eastern Dominance to 500 B.C. II - Eurasian Cultural Balance 500 B.C. - 1500 A.D. III - The Era of Western Dominance 1500 A.D. to the Present. This gives an idea of the author's approach and so much of it was really great, since it showed the total picture, rather than merely what history usually shows - a segment. The footnotes are filled with references to books one should read. An extremely worthwhile book. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Feb 8, 2009 |
This book was one of the first I read that proposed a general theory of history. It begins with the development of agricultural, sedentary civilizations. McNeil then develops the theme of the interaction between the nomad civilizations on the periphery and the agricultural civilizations. He does include a lot of material on Indian and Chinese civilization in this development. The author states that the idea of the book was first conceived in 1936 and completed in 1962.
I go back to this book from time to time and the theme has remained important in my philosophy of history. I would recommend the book to anyone with a deep interest in history. It provides an invaluable aid in thinking about the development of all human civilizations. ( )
4 vote wildbill | Apr 28, 2007 |
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William H. McNeillprimary authorall editionscalculated
Petheö, BélaIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The Rise of the West, winner of the National Book Award for history in 1964, is famous for its ambitious scope and intellectual rigor. In it, McNeill challenges the Spengler-Toynbee view that a number of separate civilizations pursued essentially independent careers, and argues instead that human cultures interacted at every stage of their history. The author suggests that from the Neolithic beginnings of grain agriculture to the present major social changes in all parts of the world were triggered by new or newly important foreign stimuli, and he presents a persuasive narrative of world history to support this claim. In a retrospective essay titled "The Rise of the West after Twenty-five Years," McNeill shows how his book was shaped by the time and place in which it was written (1954-63). He discusses how historiography subsequently developed and suggests how his portrait of the world's past in The Rise of the West should be revised to reflect these changes. "This is not only the most learned and the most intelligent, it is also the most stimulating and fascinating book that has ever set out to recount and explain the whole history of mankind. . . . To read it is a great experience. It leaves echoes to reverberate, and seeds to germinate in the mind."--H. R. Trevor-Roper, New York Times Book Review

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