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Capsule Review

The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century

In This Review

The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century
By David Fromkin
Alfred A. Knopf, 1999 272 pp. $25.00 Purchase

In a sweeping and fast-paced narrative, Fromkin presents the great historical movements that brought world civilization from its primitive past to the American-dominated present. The book offers neither scholarly research nor a bold new interpretation of the West's rise, and Fromkin has no overt political agenda or specific theoretical claim. All the same, his point of view is unmistakable: We can best understand the present by interpreting the past as a gradual but relentless river of progress, enlightenment, and modernization, punctuated by great leaders who push society forward. Science, technology, rationality, conquest, capitalism, and ambition also make appearances along the way. Modernization has been particularly kind to the United States, which Fromkin considers the preeminent modern society, and his argument has a certain force at this particular moment of American dominance. But the reader should remember that just a decade ago the notion of the United States as the world's modernizing leader was not very convincing and remains disputed today in much of the world. Fromkin also misses opportunities to engage the skeptics who believe that history can indeed flow into a great river -- but also break apart into many separate streams.

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