Most of the book is intelligent, well-sourced, easy to read, and non-dogmatic. It is a "big book" on the scale of Jared Diamond or Paul Kennedy and the author is obviously highly intelligent. There is a good use of archaeology and mostly the author supports geographical theories of the rise of the West and other civilizations. It considers energy use, urbanization, and war-making explicitly, all pluses in my view. Eventually you realize it is going nowhere and has only a weak theoretical framework. The first two-thirds are still better to read than most books. It raised my opinion of the importance of coal in the Industrial Revolution. The final chapter collapses into the lamest of conventional wisdoms.
The WSJ gave it a big review which somehow I cannot find on-line. Here are other reviews.
A Tanner Lecture, with comments by Richard Seaford, Jonathan D. Spence, Christine Korsgaard, and Margaret Atwood, and edited by Stephen Macedo. Due out March 22.
War: What is it Good for? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots, by Ian Morris, Profile, RRP£25/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$30
In this remarkable book, historian Morris argues not only that war is a source of technological advance but that it brings peace. Through war, more powerful and effective states emerge and these in turn do not merely offer the blessings of peace, but impose it. The thesis is disturbingly persuasive. But, in a nuclear age, the great powers will have to try something else.
The full list is here, possibly gated. They also recommend the Adam Tooze book on the post WWI era, which I now have finished and really like and also find to be quite Sumnerian. Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet is an excellent read as well.
I have a new piece for The Upshot on that topic, here is one excerpt:
Counterintuitive though it may sound, the greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. This view does not claim that fighting wars improves economies, as of course the actual conflict brings death and destruction. The claim is also distinct from the Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects.
It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.
I also discuss new books by Ian Morris, Kwasi Kwarteng, and some research by my colleague Mark Koyama, as well as Azar Gat. I did not have room in the piece to point out there is an interior solution concerning this issue. That is, if the chance of war is too high, and property rights are too insecure, that isn’t good for economic growth either.
The author is Ian Morris and the subtitle is How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations. I don’t like the subtitle of this book, which I feel should include the word “energy.” While a number of topics are covered, the core parts of the book concern the importance of energy sources for early economic development.
This strikes me as an important work. I will report back on it once I have the chance to give it further study (which won’t be right away). In the meantime I am simply reporting that it will come out this January and that it is worthy of your attention.