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The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation
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  • 1 map 9 tables
  • Page extent: 394 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.53 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521547246 | ISBN-10: 0521547245)

DOI: 10.2277/0521547245

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

 (Stock level updated: 02:09 GMT, 28 November 2015)


John Hobson challenges the ethnocentric bias of mainstream accounts of the Rise of the West. It is often assumed that since Ancient Greek times Europeans have pioneered their own development, and that the East has been a passive by-stander in the story of progressive world history. Hobson argues that there were two processes that enabled the Rise of the 'Oriental West'. First, each major developmental turning point in Europe was informed in large part by the assimilation of Eastern inventions (e.g. ideas, technologies and institutions) which diffused from the more advanced East across the Eastern-led global economy between 500–1800. Second, the construction of European identity after 1453 led to imperialism, through which Europeans appropriated many Eastern resources (land, labour and markets). Hobson's book thus propels the hitherto marginalised Eastern peoples to the forefront of the story of progress in world history.

• Provides a non-racist account of the Rise of the West • Rethinks the essential categories, concepts and assumptions of world history • Explores the role of identity in world historical development


1. Countering the Eurocentric myth of the West: discovering the Oriental West; Part I. The East as an Early Developer; 2. Islamic and African pioneers: building the global economy in the Afro-Asian Age of Discovery, 500–1500; 3. Chinese pioneers: the first industrial miracle and the myth of Chinese isolationism, 1000–1800; 4. The East remains dominant: India, Japan and Southeast Asia, 1400–1800; Part II. The West was Last: 5. Inventing Christendom and the Eastern origins of European feudalism; 6. The myth of the Italian pioneer; 7. The myth of the Vasco de Gama epoch, 1498–1800; Part III. The West as a Late-Developer: 8. The myth of 1492 and the impossibility of America: the Afro-Asian contribution to the catch-up of the West, 1492–1700; 9. The Chinese origins of British industrialisation; 10. Constructing European racist identity and the invention of the world, 1700–1850; 11. War, racist imperialism and the Afro-Asian origins of British industrialisation; Part IV. Conclusion: The Oriental West versus the Eurocentric Myth of the West: 12. The twin myths of the Western liberal state and the civilisational divide between East and West, 1500–1900; 13. The rise of the Oriental West.


'Evidence that Asia's primacy was crucial to the Rise of the West has been accumulating for twenty years. Dr Hobson has now pulled the pieces together in a compellingly written and most challenging scheme. His grand conception will open a whole new order of debate.' Eric Jones, author of The European Miracle and Growth Recurring

'We are still at the beginning stage of a much-needed revisionist history of the world, to which this book makes a lively scholarly contribution. Hobson's well-documented argument warrants serious consideration.' Janet Abu-Lughod, author of Before European Hegemony

'John Hobson's work is thoroughly researched, enormously wide ranging and well written. It does not merely provide a thoughtful response to recent Eurocentric world histories. It is also certain to play a central role in the new wave of studies demonstrating the substantial contributions to modern 'civilisation' made by so many non-European peoples.' Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena

'This is an important book of comparative and historical sociology. It is both a punchy polemic against Eurocentrism and an impressive gathering of evidence on the historical development of Europe and Asia. Hobson argues that the many inventions which supposedly enabled Europe to dominate the world were actually diffused to Europe from Asia (usually from China) and that Asia/China remained as developed as Europe until the 19th century - and mostly he convinces.' Michael Mann, author of Sources of Social Power (2 volumes)

'John Hobson has written an immensely ambitious book which seeks, literally and metaphorically, to redraw the historical map. Drawing on an impressive range of economic and cultural historiography, he proposes a new 'meta-narrative' for a millennium of global history, which is perhaps best summed up as 'The Oriental Contribution to the Rise of the West'. Hobson argues that Western industrialization was based in large measure on the adoption of Arab and Chinese knowledge, the enslavement of African labour and the imposition of asymmetric trading arrangements on Asian economies. As a polemic against European triumphalism, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization recalls the hugely influential work of the author's great grandfather, the radical anti-imperialist J. A. Hobson.' Niall Ferguson, author of Empire

'… ground-breaking work … Hobson's main accomplishment is to show that cultures do not exist, not have they ever existed, in isolation.' New Statesman

'John Hobson has written an original and insightful book which amounts to no less than an alternative history of the modern world. Dr Hobson breaks through the received wisdom about East and West, recasting familiar assumptions about 'Western'civilization and tracing the West's indebtedness to the East. His is a rare act of intellectual rediscovery - a remarkable and thought-provoking work.' Shashi Tharoor, author of The Great Indian Novel, and India: From Midnight to the Millennium

'Hobson's book will provide students of world/global history with important source material, as well as controversial ideas, for years to come.' Economic History Review

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