In this short lecture, historian Ian Morris talks about the key themes of his ambitious new book, Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future. Geography, he claims, is what explains the arc of world history. He hammers this home in the provocative title of his recent article: lattitudes not attitudes. The book, predictably enough, has been praised by Jared Diamond but also by some historians with very different vantage points, such as David Landes and Niall Ferguson (though it was dissed by philosopher John Gray).
I haven't read the book but going by this lecture and the article, Morris—echoing Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel—seems to me broadly right for prehistoric times. However I worry that, like Diamond, he may be overplaying his hand in explaining more recent history via geography alone. Even with the contextually shifting role of geography, is he not granting it too much explanatory power at the expense of (non-material) culture, especially in the age of powerful states, group politics, and big religions? Nor was I impressed by his take on the future, what with his sophomoric embrace of Kurzweil and Singularity. Guess I should rouse myself to read the tome before saying more.