The history of us all

By Razib Khan | December 8, 2010 12:02 am

I should mention I finished Why the West Rules a few days ago, and Tyler Cowen was spot on. The author is by training a classical archaeologist, and so the first portion of the book which focuses on archaeology, and up to the classical historical period, is thick, dense, and insightful. But as he pushes past the year 1000 A.D. it starts to become a mishmash of conventional wisdom and thinly explicated secondary sources. It began tight, but slowly unwound. There is no equivalent near the end of the book to the detailed exposition of the importance of the pre-literate Uruk Culture.

Here are some books which I’ve found more useful on the broad topic of economic and social history:

A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present

A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 – 323 BC

A Farewell to Alms

The Great Divergence

Power and Plenty

The Human Web

After Tamerlane

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, History
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  • Antonio

    Would you recommend any good demographic history of either the world or Europe or both? Thank you.

  • Roger Bigod

    A short, opinionated summary is East and West by C Northcoate Parkinson. A few simple themes and ideas from a thought-provoking perspective.

  • twl

    Victor Lieberman’s two volume work “Strange Parallels” is on my reading list.

    It’s annoying that a lot of these books were written some time ago (the above 2003) and that there is no academic discipline or publication (other than your and others’ blogs) to discuss them. The literature on meta-history is getting huge and keeps coming.

  • bioIgnoramus

    I suppose the second edition will be Why the West Ruled.

  • Razib Khan

    twl, just finished the second volume. much tougher slog than the first. i recommend them….though i didn’t want to put them on the list cuz they’re so dense and a difficult read.

  • T. Greer

    1. I take it you think Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD is too technical for a general reading list?

    2. Some other ‘easy to read but rather informative books’ on social/economic history:

    Alfred Crosuby’s Environmental Imperialism

    William McNiell’s Plagues and Peoples

    3. Razib, have you reviewed After Tamerlane before? I have not read the book myself, but have heard much good and bad about it. What is your take on the book?

  • Razib Khan

    After Tamerlane before? I have not read the book myself, but have heard much good and bad about it. What is your take on the book?

    i thought it was good. would have liked more cliometric data to back up the assertions.

    maddison was an oversight.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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