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"Civilization" by Niall Ferguson

(Original review by Steven Pearlstein at The Washington Post...)

"...Always the intellectual provocateur, Ferguson also means to challenge the insidious dogma, now ascendant on university campuses, that holds that the “triumph of the West” was nothing more than a self-centered fiction concocted by European and American scholars to justify centuries of brutal colonialism and oppression. And while he stops short of arguing that the West’s decline is inevitable, he warns that it has become a real possibility that could unfold rather quickly.

While the basic outline of Ferguson’s argument is sound, the book itself is something of a disappointment. It reveals the strains on an ambitious academic who has churned out nine books in 13 years, all while hosting five series for British television, holding down two appointments at Harvard — one in the history department and one at the business school — and part-time fellowships at Stanford and Oxford, and writing a regular column for Newsweek. For the past eight years, he has also been working on a biography of Henry Kissinger.

The result of this prodigious over-scheduling is a book that is a mishmash of disconnected and sometimes contradictory riffs held together by faulty logic, inapt metaphors and clever turns of phrase. Instead of presenting himself as the well-read and widely traveled polymath he genuinely is, Ferguson comes off as an intellectual showoff who couldn’t be bothered to edit his own ideas..."


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