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

By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Erudite, wide-ranging, a piece of magnificent scholarship written with impressive 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 selecting its measure of good fortune. "Unlike prior makes an attempt to write down the comparative historical past of civilizations," he writes, "it is prepared surroundings via setting, instead of interval via interval or society by means of society. therefore, 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 background.

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Progress was identified with the renunciation of nature. Reversion to the wild was derogation. Men might be the sucklings of wolves, but their destiny was to build Rome. ~ so-called Wild Child of Aveyron was a boy abandoned in infancy in the high forests of the Tarn, who survived by his own wits for years until he was captured in 1798 and subjected to an experiment in civilization, which his custodians were never able to complete to their satisfaction. Perhaps the most poignant moments in his pathetic life, described by his tutor, were of reminiscence of his solitude: At the end of his dinner, even when he is no longer thirsty, he is always seen with the air of an epicure who holds his glass for some exquisite liquor, to fill his glass with pure water, take it by sips and swallow it drop by drop.

To disqualify strictly agrarian societies from civilization is to invalidate much of the work that has been done on the subject. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is the kind of radical revision that demands careful justification. No such justification has so far been proposed. Economics, in any case, do not make a city: only the state of mind of the citizens can do that. In Santillana del Mar there are cattle grids in the streets, but civic pride frowns from every crested stone facade.

This does not mean their work was valueless: far from it. Huntington's genius gleams on almost every page of his enormous output, but it was warped into error by two vices: first, his affection for pet theories, especially his conviction that long-term weather trends changed by a mechanism he called "pulsation," which enabled him to affix every development he acknowledged as civilized in a place and period of favorable climate;18 second, the preference for his own kind, which he fought against but to which he routinely succumbed.

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