Plough, Sword, and Book: The Structure of Human History

Ernest Gellner, Author University of Chicago Press $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-226-28701-0
In Gellner's grand scheme, world history can be divided into three stages: hunting/gathering, agriculture, industry. Human progress is an uneven march from ``Middle Eastern swamp and mud'' to the computer age. This Cambridge University social anthropologist characterizes much primitive thought as illogical and absurd. The world's agrarian civilizations (China, India, etc.), on his scorecard, were a quagmire of stagnation, oppression and superstition; agrarian peoples, ``generally speaking . . . despise work.'' Then how, he asks, did self-limiting agricultural societies make the spontaneous leap into individualistic capitalism and a market economy? In most times and most places, they didn't, asserts this prolific scholar, who views the Industrial Revolution as the crucial turning point in transforming power relations and even human thought processes. Gellner's ambitious theory smacks of Eurocentric hubris, and though the publisher, quoting a British reviewer, bills his study as ``a thrilling book for the nonspecialist,'' his prose is turgid and portentous. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1989
Release date: 02/01/1989
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-226-28702-7
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