Book review: How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, by Rodney Stark.
This book is a mostly entertaining defense of Christian and libertarian cultures’ contribution to Western civilization’s dominance.
He wants us to believe that the industrial revolution resulted from mostly steady progress starting with Greek city-states, interrupted only by the Roman empire.
He defends the Catholic church’s record of helping scientific progress and denies that the Reformation was needed, although he suggests the Catholic church’s reaction to the Reformation created harmful anti-capitalist sentiments.
His ideas resemble those in Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order, yet there’s little overlap between the content of the two books.
The early parts of the book have too many descriptions of battles and other killings whose relevance is unclear.
I was annoyed at how much space he devoted to attacking political correctness toward the end of the book.
In spite of those problems, he presents many interesting ideas. Some are fairly minor, such as changes in privacy due to the Little Ice Age triggering the invention of chimneys. Others provide potentially important insights into differences between religions, e.g. “many influential Muslim scholars have held that efforts to formulate natural laws are blasphemy because they would seem to deny Allah’s freedom to act.”
Alas, I can only give the book a half-hearted endorsement because I suspect many of his claims are poorly supported. E.g. he thinks increased visibility of child labor in the 1800s caused child labor laws via shocked sensibilities. Two alternatives that seem much more plausible to me are that the increased visibility made the laws feasible to enforce, and the increased concentration of employers into a separate class made them easier scapegoats.