Civilizations by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 3 Critic Reviews

unrated

Synopsis

In Civilizations, Felipe Fernández-Armesto once again proves himself a brilliantly original historian, capable of large-minded and comprehensive works; here he redefines the subject that has fascinated historians from Thucydides to Gibbon to Spengler to Fernand Braudel: the nature of civilization.
To Fernández-Armesto, a civilization is "civilized in direct proportion to its distance, its difference from the unmodified natural environment"...by its taming and warping of climate, geography, and ecology. The same impersonal forces that put an ocean between Africa and India, a river delta in Mesopotamia, or a 2,000-mile-long mountain range in South America have created the mold from which humanity has fashioned its own wildly differing cultures. In a grand tradition that is certain to evoke comparisons to the great historical taxonomies, each chapter of Civilizations connects the world of the ecologist and geographer to a panorama of cultural history. In Civilizations, the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is not merely a Christian allegory, but a testament to the thousand-year-long deforestation of the trees that once covered 90 percent of the European mainland. The Indian Ocean has served as the world's greatest trading highway for millennia not merely because of cultural imperatives, but because the regular monsoon winds blow one way in the summer and the other in the winter.
In the words of the author, "Unlike previous attempts to write the comparative history of civilizations, it is arranged environment by environment, rather than period by period, or society by society." Thus, seventeen distinct habitats serve as jumping-off points for a series of brilliant set-piece comparisons; thus, tundra civilizations from Ice Age Europe are linked with the Inuit of the Pacific Northwest; and the Mississippi mound-builders and the deforesters of eleventh-century Europe are both understood as civilizations built on woodlands. Here, of course, are the familiar riverine civilizations of Mesopotamia and China, of the Indus and the Nile; but also highland civilizations from the Inca to New Guinea; island cultures from Minoan Crete to Polynesia to Renaissance Venice; maritime civilizations of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea...even the Bushmen of Southern Africa are seen through a lens provided by the desert civilizations of Chaco Canyon.
More, here are fascinating stories, brilliantly told -- of the voyages of Chinese admiral Chen Ho and Portuguese commodore Vasco da Gama, of the Great Khan and the Great Zimbabwe. Here are Hesiod's tract on maritime trade in the early Aegean and the most up-to-date genetics of seed crops. Erudite, wide-ranging, a work of dazzling scholarship written with extraordinary flair, Civilizations is a remarkable achievement...a tour de force by a brilliant scholar.
 

About Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

See more books from this Author
Felipe Fernández-Armesto, the William P. Reynolds Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration and Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States. He lives in South Bend, Indiana, and London.
 
Published September 14, 2001 by Free Press. 560 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Civilizations

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

The difference between maps and other data-conveying graphics is that maps exist to represent spatial relationships — direction, sequence and distance.

Dec 02 2007 | Read Full Review of Civilizations: Culture, Ambit...

The Guardian

See more reviews from this publication

Civilizations Felipe Fernandez-Armesto 636pp, Macmillan £25 Buy it at BOL Civilization is a knotty word.

Nov 04 2000 | Read Full Review of Civilizations: Culture, Ambit...

Publishers Weekly

See more reviews from this publication

Enthusiastic readers of popular history have come to expect the author of Millennium and Truth: A History and Guide for the Perplexed to deliver a read filled with wonders, important insights, wit and outrageous opinion.

| Read Full Review of Civilizations: Culture, Ambit...

Reader Rating for Civilizations
76%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 27 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review
×