Niall Ferguson has a new book coming out with an accompanying six-part Channel 4 series, Civilization: The West and the Rest:
Coming just eight months after the Warburg biography, it’s a book that belongs at the more populist end of the Ferguson oeuvre. In fact, he says, he wrote it largely with his children in mind. (He has three, two sons and a daughter, ranging from 11 to 17.) “The book is partly designed so a 17-year-old boy or girl will get a lot of history in a very digestible way, and be able to relate to it,” says Ferguson, who, along with the many other irons he has in the fire, is advising his friend Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, on how to redraft the history curriculum. “I have a sense that my son and daughter’s generation is not well served by the way they are taught history. They don’t have the big picture. They get given these chunks, usually about Adolf Hitler, so I wanted to write a book that would be really accessible to them.”
I must admit, I cringed when I read this:
The west’s ascendancy, he argues, is based on six attributes that he labels its “killer apps”: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic.
A killer app is not simply something good — or even something insanely great.
A killer app is something small that gets you to buy into something much bigger. The first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, got people to buy an entire computer, just for that one application.
So — all puns aside — the West’s real killer app was probably the gun — or the ship bristling with guns. Once you see what the round-eyes can do with that, you start thinking about adopting their strange ways.