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review 2015-04-05 00:33
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

(this review was originally posted and has a portuguese version on my blog.)


With this work, Ian Mortimer intends to a analyse the last ten centuries and determine the changes in human civilization - focused on the so called western world - with the purpose of finding the one which saw the biggest changes.


The author starts by explaining his approach, justifying the option for the western civilization, and then, chapter by chapter, describes each century taking into account the changes and the agents of those changes at the time. This method ends up becoming a good way to remember history and the pathway our civilization has treaded before it became what it is today.
After this, the author looks back and uses some criteria to be able to determine the main changes and agents and the centuries that saw them happen.
I didn't always agree with the author's choices or opinions - something that is obviously related to individual values and perspectives, as the author himself refers - but he does explain his options showing sound logic and justification.

The main relevance of the book, in my opinion, much more than finding out in which century we changed the most, is what the subtitle asks - "Why it Matters to Us?"


"Breaking down the overarching concept of change into smaller facets has allowed us to glimpse the dynamics of long-term human development. We can see that not all change is technological: it includes language, individualism, philosophy, religious division, secularisation, geographical discovery, social reform and the weather."


Mortimer ends with a very relevant analysis of our civilization's evolution and a prediction of what our future can hold.


The winning century? It is but a detail.

I had free access to this book through NetGalley.

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review 2014-12-16 09:39
Centuries of Change by Ian Mortimer
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

In his latest book historian Ian Mortimer examines a much longer period of time than he did in his previous work: Mortimer takes a look at the past 1000 years and examines century by century the most important changes in the respective periods. His aim is to find out which of the past ten centuries experienced the most changes.

Centuries of Change is written in a very readable way. There was lots of information in it I already knew but now looked at again from a different perspective. I just have some minor critic: the further Ian Mortimer progressed in history, the less detailed he was. This is understandable, however: the early centuries just weren't as fast-paced as the later ones. There were still major changes but just not so many of them. At the end of each chapter the principal agent of change for each century is described. In the nineteenth century Karl Marx is named here. Having read the chapter I was a bit astonished by that: Karl Marx is hardly mentioned before and then he is suddenly the most important person of the century. This seemed a bit weird.

One of the best parts of the book is Ian Mortimer's way of figuring out which century really experienced the most changes. To do that he uses Maslow's hierarchy of needs and constructs his own pyramid from that. He then applies different statistical methods constructed by others to rank the centuries for each item. Ian Mortimer finally comes to the conclusion that the twentieth century was the one with the most changes. To him - and also to me - this was a bit surprising: we both would have opted for the nineteenth century.

All in all this book was an enjoyable read, though not quite as entertaining as I'd hoped. I learned a lot from it and also could identify two centuries I definetely wouldn't have wanted to live in: the 13th (because of the Black Death) and the 17th (because of the wars, e.g. the 30-year-war in central Europe).

(I received a free digital copy via Netgalley/the publisher. Thanks for the opportunity!)

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review 2014-11-14 16:01
Centuries of Change by Ian Mortimer
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

Centuries of Change looks at the previous ten centuries of Western history and asks: “Which century saw more change?”. The premise is intriguing and the book presents a complex, well-researched discussion of the evolution of Humanity’s way of life, and what is ultimately more important to us as members of a society, whether we realize it or not.

The choice to focus on the Western world is explained by the author, historian Ian Mortimer, right at the beginning, and makes sense if we consider that the Western world was the principal agent of change at the time, but still, it would have been nice to hear a bit more about the perspective of those people elsewhere. Also, I found the author’s choices of the most defining changes, and the agents of such change, in each century, strange, but I guess that’s because they ultimately hinge on personal beliefs on priorities - and, to be fair, the author also acknowledges this. And I did ultimately see the logic in his conclusions (though I won’t spoil them here). His reasoning that diminishing resources will eventually result in most of the Western world turning into oligarchies is, unfortunately, quite sound, and in some cases, that future is already here.

Still, this book is entertaining (though, ultimately, frightening) and it was interesting to discover a bit more about Western world history. It was fascinating to read about everyday life and the social, scientific, economical and political changes that brought us where we are today. My mother is a History teacher, so I’m perhaps in a privileged position when it comes to the discipline, and I was already familiar in general with a lot of the changes described in the book, but they're presented in such staggering detail that you can’t help but learn many new things, even if you’re a History buff. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that went into writing this book, which clearly demanded not only knowledge of History, but also of Geography, Sociology, Philosophy, Epidemiology… The list goes on. The final chapters were particularly gripping, and I found myself unable to put down the book.


In the end, this is a thought-provoking book that will make you wonder about your own life and that of your ancestors, and ponder the fragility of Humanity’s way of life. Recommended.


Note: I got this book for review purposes through NetGalley.

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