Reading World History

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I set out to find a book that documented thought conventions across time. A book that relates thought to the historical events that are often documented in world history books. It was a passive search, the kind you do when you are already reading a couple of books and you are just looking for the one that you will read next.

About a month ago I found this book. It is called: Ideas. A history of Thought and Invention from Fire to Freud. It’s written by Peter Watson. This book is very accessible and easy to read. I think this book should be recommended reading for a course in multidisciplinary studies.

While I like Watson’s book, I think there is still room for a book that associates the history of ideas with those of archeology, anthropology and art in a visual way (DK Books style?).

So far I find myself reading books on philosophy and then I find myself going back to the history books to find physical, and social traces of these ideas. I try to find these traces across political decisions, social changes, the art and the economics of the time. The unspoken, underlying question perhaps is: how did that type of thinking influence society? What can we learn from those lessons?

Someone who has surely asked these types of questions is Jared Diamond – the author of two other books I’m reading right now. One of them is Guns, Germs and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies. The other is called Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

Collapse, reads like a part travel book, part world history book, and part socio-critical documentation of environmental disfunction. The books relates this to the collapse of civilizations.

“Guns..” is a world history book, that while it’s less comprehensive in its detail than some of the standard world history books out there – it’s also less dry. To me, it’s an introductory course into the subject of world history. A book I will read before moving back to J.M. Robert’s, SUV-sized book, New History of the World – a detailed an comprehensive book that starts with pre-history.

Jared Diamond – Wikipedia

Guns, Germs and Steel – Worldcat

Collapse – Worldcat

Peter Watson – Wikipedia – presents an outline of the historical highlights Watson covers in Ideas.
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Daniel Montano
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Keyword: Daniel Montano, Dan Montano, user experience design, information architect

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One thought on “Reading World History

  1. This is fascinating material ! The broad patterns of world history show an almost infinite variety of ways that mankind has organized itself. And the ideas that men lived by determined to a large extent who succeeded and who lagged behind. Watson’s book gives us over 700 pages of detail on these ideas and zeros in on pages 324-335 on the essential factors that made a difference. He pinpoints “the discovery of the individual” around the 12th Century as pivotal, a time when tightly organized and theologically rigid Islam and Oriental cultures began their millennia of stagnation and the West emerged with the vitality of individual creativity and enterprise. In fact, that uniquely Western exaltation of the individual dates to the glory days of Greece 1,500 years earlier, but it was re-discovered in the Renaissance cities where merchants and entrepreneurs were free to create great wealth and lowly artisans were given the freedom and upward mobility to become the architects, painters and sculptors that made these cities pre-eminent in the achievement of men. Kenneth Clark celebrates this era in his book “Civilization.” To celebrate their freedom, the Florentines commissioned heroic and patriotic art. they engaged a young artist to create a gigantic figure of David, the tyrant killer, because they had just overthrown their tyrants and established a Republic. Clark writes: “the Michaelangelo is vast, defiant, and nude. . .when we come to the head we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew . . .it is not part of most people’s idea of civilization. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilized life. . . and yet we recognize that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man’s supreme achievement; and since, in the end, civilization depends on man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michaelangelo as one of the great events in the history of western mam.” Watson’s book refers to “The Needham effect” by which the diverse feudal European states such as Florence allowed more creativity than the Imperial Oriental empires. However, Needham equates all of Europe as one monolith and missed the point that it was only within a few scattered free city states that freedom was allowed and progress thereby attained. Florence, Holland and the Hanseatic League were free outposts within Europe–the rest of Europe stagnated under feudalism. It was the economic freedom of these geographically secure locales that allowed their people the opportunity to invest their time and wealth to innovate, build and multiply their good fortune. I have traced the history of such small enclaves from Phoenicia 4,500 years ago to current times. By using the case method, this process identifies the major stepping stones of history that led from the days of Abraham to the founding of America. The common denominator found was the individual economic freedom allowed a society’s people to act independently. Von Mises book “Human Action” presents a similar historical record indicating that progress always occurred from the action of many individuals at the bottom, never from the highly centralized bureaucracies of vast empires. In my case I developed “The Radzwicz Rule” (you can Google it) which reduces this positive flow of history to a simple algebraic formula. It is curious that the books by Jared Diamond present a totally different theory of history–one that caters to today’s PC concepts of cultural neutrality. In “Guns” he suggests that Western success, the Industrial Revolution, etc., came from the possession of guns and colonies. He also suggests that geography and climate made the difference. Of course that is wrong because western supremacy was evident long before colonies were obtained. And the enclaves of progress that I have documented were often in the most unfavorable locations–That is what gave them their freedom–neighboring kingdoms didn’t even want the swamps that became Venice, or the sub-sea level land of Holland. or the ice-bound lands of Iceland and Scotland. And progress was not a racial nor ethnic thing–the Phoenicians and Greeks and Basques were quite different from the Icelandic and Scottish people that carried on the experiments in free thought and free enterprise that had originally flourished in ancient Carthage, Greece and Rome. For an easy and simple summary of this history refer to “Common Genius” which in 320 pages recaps the march of ideas from amcient times forward. Its subtitle is “Guts, Grit & Common Sense” to contrast that it was lowly individuals that made the difference–not guns and colonies. What Diamond does not face up to is that there was a reason s few Western nations had the guns and got the colonies they did. The very fact they were able to explore and discover and colonize much of the world proves they were already supreme– Common Genius shows the prior development of ideas that allowed these later proofs of supremacy to occur. I really enjoyed this post because it even raises the question of the Collapse of Societies. Today’s PC obsession with pollution and environmental questions have made Diamond’s book a best sellor, but the only societies he can find to “prove” his theory is a few small isolated island nations that suffered major climate changes as part of the millennia long fluctuations in climate. He skips over the major civilizations: Greece, Rome, Florence and Holland did not decline after their great successes because of poor septic systems. Sometimes they were conquered by others, but usually their decline commenced because their prevailing notions and ideas about man and State changed. As each nation grew in wealth they became decadent, moribund, and new elites emerged with faulty ideas that undermined the principles of freedom that had made them strong in the first place. It is this class of intellectual experts that usurp control and destroy successful peoples. “Common Genius” also indicates the faulty concepts taking hold in the West that indicate that Decline has commenced right here at home.

    ‘the figure

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