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

By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Erudite, wide-ranging, a piece of superb scholarship written with amazing aptitude, Civilizations redefines the topic that has involved historians from Thucydides to Gibbon to Spengler to Fernand Braudel: the character of civilization.To the writer, Oxford historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a society's courting to weather, geography, and ecology are paramount in settling on its measure of good fortune. "Unlike earlier makes an attempt to put in writing the comparative background of civilizations," he writes, "it is prepared atmosphere via surroundings, instead of interval via interval or society via society. hence, for instance, tundra civilizations of Ice Age Europe are associated with these of the Inuit of the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi Mound developers with the deforesters of eleventh-century Europe.Civilizations brilliantly connects the area of ecologist, geologist, and geographer with the landscape of cultural historical past.

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The visitor to small islands-or the reader who visits them vicariously in the pages which follow-will see some startling cases of civilizations founded in poor, vulnerable, and marginal or isolated spots. In highlands, examples are displayed of breathtaking endeavors on poor soils or in rarefied atmospheres. Rain forests-usually thought of as hostile environments-are seen to have enclosed some of the most spectacular, monumental, and arduous built-up areas ever created. Nor, on close examination, do some of the supposedly favorable environments turn out to be as conducive as is commonly thought.

Real contempt for the other is a civilized vice rather than a universal trait. The self-differentiation of the civilized is of a peculiar kind, precisely because it is selective. People who belong to a civilization share a sense that their achievements set them apart from other peoples. Even when locked in mutual hostility-like ancient Rome and Persia, or medieval Christendom and Islam- civilizations tend to develop relationships which are mutually acknowledging and sometimes mutually sustaining.

Where exploitable resources are densely concentrated, around viable means of communication, civilizations tend to start earlier and last longer than elsewhere. Yet people's capacity to lead civilized lives in unpromising places remains dazzling. Today some of the most expensive real estate in the world is in desert wastes. Visionaries are talking about colonies on the seabed and cities in space. Wherever humans can survive, civilization can happen. The visitor to small islands-or the reader who visits them vicariously in the pages which follow-will see some startling cases of civilizations founded in poor, vulnerable, and marginal or isolated spots.

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