> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 30 September 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446442838
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 560

Civilization

A New History of the Western World




Through a vivid and dramatic interrogation of the past, this book examines and illuminates the nature of Western civilization from its earliest incarnations to the present.

On 21 September 2001 George W. Bush told Congress 'This is civilization's fight.' A month later he said 'I'm not moving on because we're in a fight for civilization itself.' European leaders described the 11 September attacks as 'a declaration of war against the entire civilized world' by a force 'dedicated to the destruction of civilization'. But what do we mean by civilization? We have a vague belief in a Western tradition of openness and freedom that has produced a good life for its citizens and a culture of enormous depth and creative power. But the history of our civilization is also filled with unspeakable brutality. For every Leonardo there is a Torquemada, for every Beethoven symphony a concentration camp, for every Chrysler Building a My Lai massacre. How can we come to the defence of a civilization whose benefits seem so questionable?

In this ambitious and important book Roger Osborne shows that we can only understand and take comfort in our civilization by re-examining and confronting our past. The barbarity in Western history can no longer be explained away as base human brutality breaking through the restraining bonds of civilization. Instead we need to see that civilization is itself a hazardous enterprise, creating enormous challenges to humans as moral social beings –­ challenges that we sometimes fail.

Civilization tells the story of the Western world from its origins to the present. Sweeping in its scope and comprehensive in its coverage, Civilization covers everything from the siege of Troy to the Gettysburg address, from Charlemagne to the European Union and from Aristotle to John Rawls. Filled with the voices of the past – including Herodotus, Pericles, Cicero, St Paul, Plotinus, St Augustine, Boccaccio, Machiavelli,Cervantes, Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, Gibbon, Darwin, Marx, Weber, Roosevelt and Arendt, to name just a few – the book ends with an assessment of the present state of Western civilization in the light of its past ­and an indication of how it might go about the urgent task of renewing itself. At such a dangerous time in the world’s history this remarkable and compelling book is required reading.

  • Pub date: 30 September 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446442838
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 560

About the Author

Roger Osborne

Roger Osborne's work has provided a range of innovative insights into our views of the past, and how they inform the present. His previous books include The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge and Deceit in French Indo-China, The Dreamer of the Calle San Salvador: Visions of Sedition and Sacrilege in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Civilization: A New History of the Western World and Of The People, By The People, A New History of Democracy.

Roger Osborne is also a professional playwright. His plays include The Art Of Persuasion, first performed in 2011 and Laughton, staged in 2013 He lives in Scarborough.

Also by Roger Osborne

See all

Praise for Civilization

“It is a bold adventurer who proposes to survey the history of the Western civilization in a mere 500 pages, and not only to say something fresh about many aspects of it, but to do so in a spirit of perceptive scepticism that refuses to go along with standard views and reflex valuations. Roger Osborne offers himself this challenge and meets it brilliantly.”

A.C. Grayling, Independent on Sunday

“Roger Osborne's absorbing blockbuster... is an admirable achievement: a coherent narrative that gallops from the painting of the Lascaux buffalo to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, from the Beaker people to the McDonald's people, in fewer than 500 crisply written pages.”

Boyd Tonkin, Independent

“Urgent, compelling, breathtaking in scope, Osborne's Civilization confronts the vital question of our time.”

John Carey

“Osborne's book is a blessing.... Two weeks in, and the year's first necessary book is with us.”

Christopher Bray, Daily Telegraph

“An immensely important book and an exhilarating read.”

Gregor Dallas, Literary Review


Related titles