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Through a vivid and dramatic interrogation of the past, this book examines and illuminates the nature of Western civilization from its earliest incarnations to the present.

About the Author

Roger Osborne's work has provided a range of innovative insights into our views of the past, and how they inform the present. His previous books include The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge and Deceit in French Indo-China, The Dreamer of the Calle San Salvador: Visions of Sedition and Sacrilege in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Civilization: A New History of the Western World and Of The People, By The People, A New History of Democracy. Roger Osborne is also a professional playwright. His plays include The Art Of Persuasion, first performed in 2011 and Laughton, staged in 2013 He lives in Scarborough.


This stimulating survey steers a middle course between triumphal pageant of progress and postmodern bricolage of clashing perspectives to attempt a coherent narrative of Western history. Historian Osborne (The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology) traces a lucid, thoughtful overview of European and American history from Stonehenge and the Greco-Roman era to the present. Tying together his account are a few broad themes, most prominently the development of rationalism the use of abstract reasoning to uncover universal laws governing nature and society from its Platonic origins to its apotheosis in Western science and its malevolent influence on Soviet communism. This often sinister rationalism works in counterpoint, and sometimes opposition, to what he sees as the redeeming organicity of Western culture, its rootedness in human adaptation to changing environments and practical needs in a multitude of contexts, from the growth of medieval towns to the rise of Hollywood and rock 'n' roll. Some pronouncements, like Osborne's insistence on the unique ferocity of Western warfare, aren't persuasive, and the paragraph he accords the Rolling Stones' 1969 Altamont concert is one too many. But one judges such a book less by its historiographical synthesis than by the wealth of provocative insights it throws up, and by that measure Osborne succeeds admirably. Photos. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"The book is a brilliant example of authorial brevity, the writing neither hurried nor baldly functional" -- Edward Vallance * BBC History Magazine *
"An immensely important book and an exhilarating read" -- Gregor Dallas * Literary Review *
"It is a bold adventurer who proposes to survey the history of Western civilization in a mere 500 pages, and not only to say something fresh about many aspects of it, but to do so in a spirit of perceptive scepticism that refuses to go along with standard views and reflex valuations. Roger Osborne offers himself this challenge and meets it brilliantly" -- A.C. Grayling * Independent on Sunday *
"Roger Osborne's absorbing blockbuster... is an admirable achievement: a coherent narrative that gallops from the painting of the Lascaux buffalo to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, from the Beaker people to the McDonald's people, in fewer than 500 crisply written pages" -- Boyd Tonkin * Independent *
"Urgent, compelling, breathtaking in scope, Osborne's Civilization confronts the vital question of our time" -- John Carey

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