Military Expansion and the Making of Civilization


Hoover Institution scholar-in-residence Sowell concludes a trilogy that began with Race and Culture (1994) and Migrations and Cultures (1996) by considering—in sometimes stimulating, sometimes muddled fashion—the momentous consequences of long-term military occupation on subject peoples. The history of conquests, Sowell writes, applies not just to the past; it’s also “about how we came to be where we are economically, intellectually, and morally.” Beginning with the British (who were subjugated by the Romans, only to create their own empire more than a millennium later), Sowell goes on to analyze the complex interaction between conquering and subject peoples in the case of the Africans, the Slavs of eastern Europe, and Western Hemisphere Indians. Sowell acutely details ways that geography can spur or stall industry (e.g., the lack of mineral deposits and navigable waterways retarded commerce in the Balkans while western Europe began to pull ahead). Even more important than geographic assets, however, is what Sowell calls “human capital” the combination of skills, experience, and orientation. The Scots, for instance, following their absorption into England, achieved a renaissance of science and medicine. Sowell aims to be hard-headed, challenging notions that all cultures are equally worthy. Often, however, his conclusions are simplistic. He criticizes postcolonial African leaders, for instance, for studying “soft” subjects rather than “hard” ones such as math, science, engineering, and medicine, but he doesn—t say that in the West, business growth has frequently been created by marketers who have studied English, psychology, law, and even politics. Moreover, except in the case of the Soviet Union, many of his sources are more than a decade old. This lack of recent specialized studies leads to omissions that call into question some of his conclusions (e.g., while noting that Ireland’s economy sputtered into the late 1980s, he doesn—t mention that country’s more recent boom). Fascinating analysis vitiated, over the course of this trilogy, by repetition, insulting national comparisons, and superficial history.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-465-01399-6
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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