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The Square and the Tower

Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power
Narrated by: John Sackville
Length: 16 hrs and 5 mins
Categories: History, World
4 out of 5 stars (226 ratings)

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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson.

What if everything we thought we knew about history was wrong? From the global best-selling author of Empire, The Ascent of Money and Civilization, this is a whole new way of looking at the world.

Most history is hierarchical: it's about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that's simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks - leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?

The 21st century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower, Niall Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Those looking forward to a utopia of interconnected 'netizens' may therefore be disappointed. For networks are prone to clustering, contagions and even outages. And the conflicts of the past already have unnerving parallels today, in the time of Facebook, Islamic State and Trumpworld.

©2017 Niall Ferguson (P)2017 Penguin Books Ltd.

What members say

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Very Poor

What disappointed you about The Square and the Tower?

I thought this could be promising from the Title but found, for me, this relied too much on lengthy passages of writing I considered to be rather obvious; I put the book away. Perhaps I expected too much?

What could Niall Ferguson have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I thought the idea clever but the execution rather unoriginal.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

The narration for me was OK but I had a problem more with the material.

What character would you cut from The Square and the Tower?

Given the chance again I just would not buy it.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Dull - excessively scientific

Got to chapter 7 and lost the will to carry on. I was expecting a history of hierarchy and networks... Instead I got what seems to be an academic research paper... A good cure for insomnia...

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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the dullest book I've read in a long time

I often enjoy non fiction. this book strings a single idea that could be explained well in half an hour.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Inspired and frightened

Conflict between central power and diffuse networks as old as time and when balance of power shifts conflict follows. Frightening when we consider American chaos as world allegiances realign and non rational actors hold power.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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thought provoking and timely

fascinating account of the modern state of politics seen through what Ferguson would tell us is in fact a very ancient idea, the network as the antithesis of the hierarchical order. hit it's stride in the last 3 hours when Ferguson gets on to the modern networked economy and the political situations in America and the UK

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Long and chatty book with almost no value

In the intro the author gives a promise to deliver a lot of stuff but the book are just collection of information that has a very week connection with each other , he may called that as “ network” !!! But anyone can link any group of events and put the keyword “ network” to make a value of a chatty long writing like this
For me indeed NOT recommended book

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Awful execution of an interesting perspective

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Having now read it, I realise that it would probably have taken an altogether different author.

What was most disappointing about Niall Ferguson’s story?

Lack of critical consideration of his own methodology and ideology.

Did John Sackville do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

The narrator did a good job, though I tend to find mock-accents quite distracting and unnecessary.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Square and the Tower?

The entire final third of the book.

Any additional comments?

The idea of the network as a key driving feature of history is both genuinely interesting and fundamentally enlightening. It is sad, then, that the author fails both to take his own lessons to heart and to critically consider the methodology of his analysis.

The most glaring example of this is the fact that the author manages to simultaneously acknowledge that the hierarchy is a type of network, and only and always consider the two concepts as in conflict. This is an absurdity that utterly undermines a great deal of his narrative.

Perhaps more crucial to the book’s (and its arguments’) failure is the author’s failure to understand the limitations of network graph analysis, and in turn why it is so crucial to view the network as but a component of a complex system. To point out one obvious shortcoming of graph analysis: It views all edges as pseudo-homogenous, all equal or variable by only a single variable (edge weight). In reality, few edges are created equal, and most are multivariant. For example, a connection between two nodes can have different ‘frictions’ (resistance to information transmission), bandwidth, length, latency, and filtering conditions (information type A might get through, type B might be filtered out altogether). Taking count of these moves your analysis from the simple (and deliberately simplistic) world of graph analysis into the world of complex systems analysis.

Had he taken that step and followed through with it, he might have eventually realised (among other crucial insights) that networks naturally tend toward the generation of internal hierarchies, inevitably so in the case of networks that persist across node generations. Moreover, networks are inherently complex and interconnected; no network stands alone, and all networks contains within them other networks. The various node weightings he alludes to throughout the book spell it out for him, but he never realises it; the differential node weightings create, in effect, a de-facto hierarchy within a network, even if it isn't formalised, and it does not have to be the only one.

In the last third or so of the book, the author also furter undermines the legitimacy of both himself as a serious academic author and of the book itself by giving the narrative a very clear blind-partisan tone, repeating establishment-conservative talking points on several occasions and employing some very recognisable partisan language.

Basically, a good idea with a lot of potential and some fresh historical perspectives ruined by an author too reliant on and trusting in his own ideology and idea of a persistent cycle of conflict between two types of network.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Heading is not in fact optional

Fascinating story of networks with many interesting historical anecdotes. Narrating quotes in the national accent is a bit weird at first but kinda works

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Poor

The language in this book makes me feel that this is an academic who is showing off with complex language and terms rather a book for everyone to enjoy.

Gave up reading after a few hours.

Niall should read Yuval Noah Harari to learn how an academic can convert his writing into simple language for us average individuals to enjoy.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting.

An intetesting analysis of diffuse phenomena of our age. Sadly, an over-arching conclusion evades the narrative - perhaps for the better.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Jan Sapper
  • Jan Sapper
  • 20-04-18

Awesome interesting book, but the narrator pronounced so many things wrong!

The content is as you would expect from Ferguson awesome. Anyhow the often mispronounced words make me wonder if the narrator really did his research? For example he calls Ben Bernanke „Ben Bernank“. Very distracting from the content. Pity.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful