Item description for Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto...
Overview Argues that geographical, agricultural, and social factors shaped the civilizations which developed in various climatic regions, and explains how the success of civilizations depends on environmental resources.
Publishers Description Erudite, wide-ranging, a work of dazzling scholarship written with extraordinary flair, "Civilizations" redefines the subject that has fascinated historians from Thucydides to Gibbon to Spengler to Fernand Braudel: the nature of civilization. To the author, Oxford historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a society's relationship to climate, geography, and ecology are paramount in determining its degree of success. "Unlike previous attempts to write the comparative history of civilizations," he writes, "it is arranged environment by environment, rather than period by period or society by society." Thus, for example, tundra civilizations of Ice Age Europe are linked with those of the Inuit of the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi Mound Builders with the deforesters of eleventh-century Europe. "Civilizations" brilliantly connects the world of ecologist, geologist, and geographer with the panorama of cultural history.
Citations And Professional Reviews Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
New York Times - 09/22/2002 page 28
New York Times - 06/24/2001 page 29
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Studio: Free Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.2" Width: 6.1" Height: 1.7" Weight: 1.3 lbs.
Release Date Jun 1, 2002
Publisher Free Press
ISBN 074320249X ISBN13 9780743202497
Availability 0 units.
More About Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is a Professorial Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, and a member of the Modern History Faculty at Oxford University. He is the author of twelve books, including Millennium and Truth: A History.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto currently resides in London. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has an academic affiliation as follows - Tufts University Oxford University St. Antony's College, Oxford Oxford.
Reviews - What do customers think about Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature?
His knowledge is wide but shallow Apr 14, 2008
His typical book. A wide-ranging survey, with occasional interesting incident, but little insight or in-depth study. For all the books he produced, he doesn't have one defining insight. Also, his shallow knowledge produces, on occasion, very ridiculous conclusions. For example, he once concluded that the U.S. need not have ended slavery because sweatshops were just as bad(!!!) Needless to say, this comment earned him extreme hatred amongst some of the people in the class which used his books.
A top-notch ahistory! Nov 30, 2005
This is top-notch work. The ideas presented in this book are challenging, the presentation clear, and the writing scintillating. Civilizations are ahistorical; this author gets it right.
Iconoclastic historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's purpose is to disavow the use of abstractions -- "historical theory," an oxymoron -- to explain the existence of civilizations. He categorizes civilizations (a wide open term in common parlance) according to their environments, a novel and sage typology. But he draws few value judgments: each civilization has its own premises and style of life, according to which it is on its own terms a success, failure, or simply an experience through which its members must live their lives.
Above all, I came away with an appreciation for the relativism and transciency of civilizations, including my own (North American industrial/imperial/multi-environment). One can already see the writing on the wall and the budding emergence of a more earth-friendly civilization, still inchoate, struggling to self-recognition -- and one hopes, dominance, before it's too late.
This is an excellent read. I save a chapter for each new day, it's that yummy.
A worthy companion to MILLENIUM Dec 27, 2003
I admit that I have every known work published by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Almost all deserve that coveted five star award (exception being TRUTH). The current work is more than a history of various groups of peoples we conventiently call civilizations - culture would be apt. The originality of this work is its premise, namely that civilizations are to evaluated on their reaction to their environment.
It makes for interesting bed-fellows; one can group African and Arab desert tribes with the Lapps and Inuits. Upon reflection it makes sense to view things this way. The similarities among these various groups is amazing considering their geographical isolation and cultural diversity. But each ecological niche - sand, mountains, oceans, jungles, grasslands, swamps - have the same problems and obstacles regardless of their geographical location - whether near the North Pole, in the Andes or in the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia.
Fernandez-Armesto's works tower over felllow journalists simply because they extend further, make bolder claims, ask the right questions. Despite his interest and reverence for primitive peoples, he is not a multi-culturist who claims that every civilization is morally equal or that this kind of short, brutish life is preferable to our contented, abundant ones. He does ask for an attentive ear and an open mind for this lesson in history, language, food, customs and ideas.
A Brilliant Synthesizer Gives Us Another Good Book Dec 14, 2003
Fernandez-Armesto's venture into environmental history further enhances his reputation as the leading scholar producing large-scale history. Here he classifies civilizations according to the general type of environment in which they arose, flourished and---often---declined. Environments and their civilizations include highlands (Zimbabwe, Inca, Aztec); small islands (Polynesia, Malta, Crete); deserts (Peru, Sahara, Gobi), among others. He then analyzes their adaptations to these settings, as well as exploring other factors. This is an ambitious if not wholly successful work, and an exceptionally thoughtful one. Among other merits, his discussion of the thorny issue of defining a "civilization" is both sensible and relaxed, unlike some other, rather overwrought treatments (Spengler, Toynbee, Huntington). Like all his work, "Civilizations" is studded with insightful comments and distinguished by sparkling literary style. That said, there are a few flaws. Some equally valid alternate typologies exist to categorize societies and cultures, and some of these civilizations were not fully distinct from others. Despite his best efforts, this work does not fully escape the shadow of determinism. This US edition is not well-supplied with the illustrations (the British edition has photos) maps, diagrams and statistical tables that are very helpful in dealing with environmental data. Lastly, the author relies almost entirely on published primary and secondary sources, but this is really a necessity in creating history on such a huge canvas. It's the only way to avoid the "Lord Acton Trap:" that famous Victorian historian sought to write the entire history of human liberty strictly from manuscript sources, and as a result he never completed a single book. Write on, Dr. Felipe!
Refreshing Apr 8, 2003
Truth be said. Nowadays it is hard to find an accurate and impartial history of civilization, and most of the civilizations we'll be able to read about do not illustrate the effort to transform the environment like some of the civilizations portrayed in this book. The book is arranged according to similarities in the environment which sprouted especific civilizations and which similarities these weathers produce in their civilizations.
In a different manner to what you'll most often find, he will explain the similarities of civilizations neither as the product of a proto civilization nor as a global consciousness, but rather as a direct consequence of the desire to transform the environment. The other thing that made this book refreshing (I know that most wont find a comparative history of civilizations refreshing) is how lucid Fernandez-Armesto's thougths on civilization are.
On most explanations you'll find that the process of civilization is a way to improve the way of life, which this book clearly proofs wrong, via evidence, not because he is against civilization, but because in a short term it would reduce the diet of humans, and would increase infectious diseases.
This is not only a work of history, but it clearly ilustrates the human mind and how it adapts, not only to it's own environment, but to external cultural influences. Though, as said on other reviews, Armesto fails to deliver all he promised (probably because he promises too much), still his work is worth of praise.