Genre = History, Empires
A historic survey of four different, diverse, and large categories of people in the world with the main focus on how conquests changed the region. This is a history book of change, not determinism. If a particular people and their culture shows a certain trend, as Sowell takes great measure to show, that trend can reverse itself over time. Form being conquered to being the conquerors, from being technologically superior to playing technological catch up, from being illiterate to producing genius. Cultures are not deterministic of a peoples’ fate, but can change, sometimes that change comes from being conquered or conquering.
The categories under observation are the British, African, Slavic, and Western Hemisphere Indians. Each chapter focuses initially on geography of the people followed by a short generalization of what the people are mostly known for. Each group is then split based on occupying region, for the regional differences impacted how conquests impacted them. The further away a region is from the conquers center, the less impacted the region may be. Opportunities presented them to the conquered with the nobles changing their very language to engage politically with the conquerors while the masses tended to fall behind, creating resentment and class struggle.
Conquerors tended to lose a few or many initial battles, but over time their superiority claimed victory. The battles were often bloody and the conquerors do bring with them much pain, but the conquerors also bring with them technology and their culture. Other times, the conquerors recognize the cultural superiority of their conquered, and integrate the conquered culture. To make use of the regions conquered, the conquerors bring their technology along. Living standards often declined when conquerors leave, as becoming independent nations could not maintain the technology and did not have skill to replicate the technology. The conquerors political organization provided stability to many regions, but when the conquerors leave, the regions sometimes cannot maintain the policies which held together diverse groups of people.
Geography had a major factor to play in which regions created conquerors and the conquered. Transportation costs are largely determined by geography which determine what can be traded and how much trade there is. Trade means a dispersion of technology and ideas. Initially, regions next to large bodies of water could trade by ship, with water transport being less costly than moving goods via land. Not until railroads came about did land transport become cheap enough in many regions to make trade profitable. Transportation could make many natural resources cost prohibitive for extraction. But transportation is not the only reason for the difference between conquerors and conquered, other reasons include having pack animals, the skills necessary to utilize the geographic resources and having right incentives in place to allow the utilization. Many times, only with foreign help could the resources be utilized, as foreigners provided many valuable skills and services.
Sowell’s descriptions focus on the internal cultural situation of the peoples. This book has varied timelines, for many empires and peoples only once existed such as the in the Western Hemisphere Indians, while many African and Slavic nations are relatively new politically. Expressing the changes in language, politics, and technology, Sowell does not miss much of how life was impacted on the conquered or the conquerors. By articulating the impact of policies on people locally and generally creates many powerful historical timeless lessons.
Pages to read: 384
1st Edition: 1998
Ratings out of 5: