From the acclaimed historian and author of The Ascent of Money, a recasting of the turning points in world history, including the one we're living through, as a collision between old power hierarchies and new social networks.
Niall Ferguson has again written a brilliant book, this time in defense of traditional top-down principles of governing the wild market and the wilder international order ... Not everyone will agree, but everyone will be charmed and educated ... We see this happening today, with social media and 24-hour news, fake and genuine. But, as Mr. Ferguson shows, it has happened many times before. His short chapters are lucid snapshots of a world history of Towers and Squares, filled with gracefully deployed learning ... The Square and the Tower is always readable, intelligent, original. You can swallow a chapter a night before sleep and your dreams will overflow with scenes of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Napoleon, Kissinger. In 400 pages you will have restocked your mind. Do it.
The Square and the Tower will not disappoint readers who have come to expect from Ferguson ambition, erudition, originality and expansive historical panoramas. These often come mixed with telling anecdotes, illuminating minutiae, fun facts and even some facile one-liners that, while entertaining, don’t add much to the argument ... Ferguson notes that the book 'brings together theoretical insights from myriad disciplines, ranging from economics to sociology, from neuroscience to organizational behavior.' Unfortunately, it is not clear how he deploys this theoretical arsenal to support his main thesis ... The Square and the Tower, however, also suffers because its main unit of analysis, the social network, is too imprecise a concept to provide a solid foundation from which to launch the book’s epic theorizing ... Nonetheless, the networks-and-hierarchies dichotomy does work as a narrative device that allows a gifted storyteller to take his readers on a fascinating tour of world history.
...goes a long way toward redressing this pervasive lack of perspective to a concept central to the contemporary technological 'revolution': networks ... One does not have to completely buy in to the book’s reframing of key social and political turning points to find the narrative both captivating and compelling. Whether describing the surprisingly ineffective 18th century network of the mysterious Illuminati that continue to be the subject of crank conspiracy theorists or the shockingly effective 20th century network of Cambridge University spies working for the Soviets, Professor Ferguson manages both to tell a good story and provide important insight into the specific qualities that power successful networks ... The important lesson of The Square and the Tower is that the existence of a network, or network effects for that matter, should be the beginning not the end of the analysis. The critical questions relate to the network’s key characteristics and how it interacts with other networks and hierarchies.