The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations


In the last thirty years, there have been fierce debates over how civilizations develop and why the West became so powerful. The Measure of Civilization presents a brand-new way of investigating these questions and provides new tools for assessing the long-term growth of societies. Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris sets forth a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century.

Adapting the United Nations' approach for measuring human development, Morris's index breaks social development into four traits--energy capture per capita, organization, information technology, and war-making capacity--and he uses archaeological, historical, and current government data to quantify patterns. Morris reveals that for 90 percent of the time since the last ice age, the world's most advanced region has been at the western end of Eurasia, but contrary to what many historians once believed, there were roughly 1,200 years--from about 550 to 1750 CE--when an East Asian region was more advanced. Only in the late eighteenth century CE, when northwest Europeans tapped into the energy trapped in fossil fuels, did the West leap ahead.

Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends.


The measure of civilization is a companion volume to my earlier book Why the West Rules—For Now. It is a very different kind of book, though. in Why the West Rules, I tried to tell the story of social development across the last fifteen thousand years; here, I describe the evidence and methods I used in constructing the index of social development that lay behind that story.

Like many books, this one has grown out of conversations that have been going for years. I was introduced to the idea of social evolution when I was a graduate student at Cambridge (UK) in the early 1980s, and have been talking and thinking about it, in fits and starts, ever since. Along the way I have incurred debts to many people, and I would particularly like to thank Daron Acemoglu, James Anderson, John Bennet, Francesca Bray, Mat Burrows, Ewen Cameron-Watt, John Cherry, Eric Chinski, David Christian, Jack Davis, Stephan de Spiegeliere, Jared Diamond, Al Dien, Tom Gallant, Peter Garnsey, Banning Garrett, Jack Goldstone, Deborah Gordon, Steve Haber, John Haldon, Paul Halstead, Ian Hodder, Agnes Hsu, Parag Khanna, Karla Kierkegaard, Kristian Kristiansen, David Laitin, Michael Lä;ssig, Mark Lewis, Anthony Ling, Li Liu, Angus Maddison, Alessio Magnavacca, Paolo Malanima, Joe Manning, Michael McCormick, Tom McLellan, Joel Mokyr, Suresh Naidu, Reviel Netz, Doug North, Josh Ober, Isaac Opper, Anne Porter, Michael Puett, Kumar Ramakrishna, Anna Razeto, Colin Renfrew, Jim Robinson, Richard Saller, Walter Scheidel, Glenn Schwartz, Hugo Scott-Gall, Steve Shennan, Dan Smail, Vaclav Smil, Larry Smith, Mike Smith, Anthony Snodgrass, Peter Temin, Nick Thomas, Peter Turchin, Barry Weingast, Todd Whitelaw, James . . .

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