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Civilization: A New History of the Western World [Paperback]

By Roger Osborne (Author)
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Item description for Civilization: A New History of the Western World by Roger Osborne...

Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Western leaders have described a world engaged in "a fight for civilization." But what do we mean by civilization? We believe in a Western tradition of freedom that has produced a fulfilling existence for many millions of people and a culture of enormous depth and creative power. But the history of our civilization is also filled with unspeakable brutality-for every Leonardo there is a Mussolini, for every Beethoven symphony a concentration camp, for every Chrysler Building a My Lai massacre.

An ambitious historical assessment of the Western world-tying together the histories of empires, art, philosophy, science, and politics-Civilization reexamines and confronts us with all of our glories and catastrophes. At such a dangerous time in the world's history, this brilliant book is required reading.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   532
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.5" Width: 6" Height: 9"
Weight:   1.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2008
Publisher   Pegasus Books
ISBN  1933648767  
ISBN13  9781933648767  

Availability  0 units.

More About Roger Osborne

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Roger Osborne is a researcher at the University of Queensland where he has managed the Australian Electronic Scholarly Editing Project and the Aus-e-Lit Project. His doctoral thesis (2001) at the University of New South Wales, Canberra included an edition of the Under Western Eyes typescript. He has published widely on the transnational history of Australian literature and written on Conrad.

Roger Osborne was born in 1954 and has an academic affiliation as follows - University College, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Early Civilization
2Books > Subjects > History > World > General

Reviews - What do customers think about Civilization: A New History of the Western World?

A liberal propaganda piece  May 5, 2008
This book is well written. This is probably the only good thing that can be said about it. The content is the usual new age, liberal, "progressive", victimologist, pick your term, propaganda. Old (and long debunked) myths are cleverly woven into the well written narrative to make them appear common and uncontested knowledge.
There is the usual claim that middle eastern and pre-columbian societies didn't practice the same kind of indiscriminate violence that Europeans brought to them. Then, of course, Celts are good, Romans are bad. Greeks fighting for freedom? Pah, this was just propaganda. Why did the Greeks win? Economics, of course (Marx would be proud).
His explanation for Greeks' achievements? Alphabetical writing. Simple isn't it? He never pauses to explain how exactly did this work nor why other societies that discovered alphabetical or other kind of writing didn't achieve that much in such short time.
I stopped reading this book after the chapter about colonization of America. As expected it was full of the usual moralism (bad Spaniards poor natives) and empty of anything worth reading.
To conclude it's a pity that the author doesn't follow its own ruminations about how societies view on history is shaped by their preconceptions. It might have made him pause and consider how laughable his opinions might become in 2108.
Illuminating, comprehensive, but where is women's liberation?  Apr 24, 2008
Osborne's survey of the history of Western Civilization was a fascinating read, striking a perfect balance between presenting the facts of history and his provocative idea that the Western value of rationalism and its belief in the progression towards an ideal society has led Western civilization to commit some of the worst atrocities in history. Frankly, this book was life changing for me. I will never again be able to look at the brutalities committed by another nation, cultural group, or religious group and suspect that the inferiority of their belief system to the Western ideals of democracy and rational thought is somehow responsible. I still value these ideals, but I more deeply understand the danger of imposing them upon other nations and cultures. I grasp how our cultural values can be (and always have been) used to justify ends that actually have little to do with spreading the values of freedom and truth, but actually those other ingrained Western values of greed and arrogance.

The problem that the U.S. runs into as a nation built on the high ideals of equality and justice, is that we profess our belief that certain things are wrong, like torture and killing civilians, but then we change that view when it serves our interests. Most of us can agree that certain atrocities are unethical or immoral, like torture and murdering innocent people. When we start to make excuses for committing acts that we previously have found deplorable, we are in trouble. History has shown that we can commit genocide for gold (as the Conquistadors did) and justify it as ordained by God; we can enslave human beings and equate their dignity to that of a mule and justify it by denigrating the slaves' own culture and religion and calling their enslavement progress; we can incinerate hundreds of thousands of innocent people with a nuclear bomb and justify it as less painful than continued warfare; we can justify torture of both innocent and guilty Muslims as necessary to save the precious lives of Americans. But if we justify away our ideals and values, they were never more than an illusion anyway, just something to give us a false sense of our superiority to other individuals and nations that justified-away their own high ideals as well.

My big complaint with Osborne's book is the glaring omission of a discussion of the change in women's status in Western societies throughout history. Feminism got one sentence (nothing about suffrage) - equal to the attention given to Quentin Tarantino. No mention of the emergence of half the population into the political sphere from which they were previously forbidden. One vague sentence about the granting of the rights of choice and autonomy to women at levels previously unknown to humankind. I found this omission interesting given that the liberation of women in the 20th century might be one example of how the Western values of democracy and equality have been made a reality and positively impacted human rights in cultures worldwide.
incredible omissions  Feb 10, 2008
very good with a somewhat negative view of the united states; can't help but mention the My lai massacre but not one mention of the greatest accomplishment of the 20th century-sending 12 men to the moon and returning them back to earth.
An anthropological etymology  Mar 23, 2007
Osborne's book opens with a nineteen-page "Prologue", which is a helpful summary of his thesis that contributes useful coherence to the remaining 473 pages of historical narrative. The book also has a bibliography for further reading and an index.

In his "Prologue" the author notes that the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have brought the vague idea of Western civilization, a reflection of who we are and what we value, into the foreground, as what we are defending in the war on terror.

But he adds that civilization is not merely a set of virtuous concepts; it is also the effects that these concepts have generated in history, and he therefore offers a historical approach to understanding the meaning of civilization.

From the time of the ancient Greeks civilization has been opposed to the barbarianism of other societies. Western historians have typically attempted to trace a thread of European civilization from ancient Greece, through Rome, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and into the nineteenth-century society of the British Empire. And this thread was spun with optimism and the idea of progress.

But the needless and futile carnage of World War I changed the idea of European civilization to one that carries pessimism and the negation of the idea of progress. Freud said of the First World War "It is not that we sank so low, but that we never came so high as we thought." Thus barbarism is not others, but rather is in each man with his base and brutal instincts that can never be expunged, so every man is both civilized and barbarian. Osborne sees this pessimism as a throwback to St. Augustine, who wrote: "Take away the barriers created by laws, men's brazen capacity to do harm, their urge to self-indulgence, would rage to the full."

Osborne's thesis is not a new historical interpretation. For example in his book Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth-Century Painting (World of Art) (1969), Michael Levey of King's College, Cambridge University, wrote that that the eighteenth century - from Watteau to Goya - saw a violent collision of opposing forces, which was at base a clash between the conscious and the unconscious mind - a very Freudian approach. And he notes that after the fall of the Bastille, optimism and belief in nature as a guide were shot to pieces by the fusillades that followed and that continued to Waterloo.

Nonetheless I enjoy reading a history with a thesis more than reading a chronology of tedious details.

Thomas J. Hickey
Which way from here?  Mar 22, 2007
On my car radio I heard Osborne being interviewed about this book and was induced to order it. Not being a history buff -- except for dabbling in specific topics like the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages and events like the battle at Agincourt (click on "See all my reviews") -- his book sounded like a good comprehensive survey. When it arrived I was encouraged by his Prologue wherein he sets his task as examining what western civilization means, not just in theory but in practice, by tracing the history of the western world. And I wasn't disappointed. His is a very scholarly yet readable survey principally of Europe from prehistoric times up to the present day.

Having lived over two-thirds of the past century, I felt able to judge his assessment of that history -- and by extension to surmise the veracity of the rest of his western history. He gets high marks from me on his history but what about his conclusions regarding the meaning of `civilization' as he set out to examine? I think he falters on that question.

In my book Concepts: A ProtoTheist Quest for Science-Minded Skeptics I take a less detailed but much longer view, tracing the history of our Universe from the Big Bank to the present, and even beyond, in order to gauge evolution's trajectory. True, as Keynes famously observed, "In the long run we are all dead," but our progeny won't be (unless we really screw up)! So it seems to me, with our runaway materialism, we're acting like shortsighted adolescents rather than farsighted parents, concerned about our progeny's future. Today it seems that the only criterion in decision-making is financial, but those who measure their lives in money are indeed very poor in what really counts in life. Yet decisions based on archaic teachings can be just as calamitous.

In his final chapter, Osborne elaborates on these trends. He cites many current examples of misguided or one-sided strategies to help us better see what's happening in our world. He doesn't prescribe solutions; indeed in the end he seems wary of broad solutions instead favoring local actions. So I can recommend reading Osborne's book to understand the problems with our current mentality, but then read mine for a comprehensive worldview which we might each embrace to guide both our long- and short-range decisions.

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