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By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Erudite, wide-ranging, a piece of spectacular scholarship written with outstanding aptitude, Civilizations redefines the topic that has involved historians from Thucydides to Gibbon to Spengler to Fernand Braudel: the character of civilization.To the writer, Oxford historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a society's courting to weather, geography, and ecology are paramount in settling on its measure of good fortune. "Unlike past makes an attempt to jot down the comparative heritage of civilizations," he writes, "it is prepared setting via atmosphere, instead of interval by means of interval or society by means of society. hence, for instance, tundra civilizations of Ice Age Europe are associated with these of the Inuit of the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi Mound developers with the deforesters of eleventh-century Europe.Civilizations brilliantly connects the realm of ecologist, geologist, and geographer with the landscape of cultural heritage.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky, best of the generals of the first Red Army, threatened "to make the world drunk . . "24The repudiation of civilization at the corresponding extreme on the right was less explicit, but the latent savagery was at least as horrible and quite as silly. 25Futurism was the art and literature both political extremes had in common: war, chaos, and destruction were glorified and tradition was vilified in favor of the aesthetics of machines, the morals of might, and the syntax of babble.

Others risk interventions in the environment which are intended only to conserve it or provide for their own survival, without any program for changing it permanently. 8 I call these cultures "civilized" only according to the degree to which they attempt to refashion their natural environment. For the standard of civilization is set by other societies, bent on the defiance of nature: hazard-courting societies; human communities who transform the world for their own ends. They recarve its landscapes or smother them with new environments which they have built themselves; they struggle to impose their own kind of order on the world around them.

O n the other, we inhabit or are entering an intellectual world in which nothing is pinned down and definitions always seem deceptive: a "processual" world in which no process is ever complete, in which meaning is never quite trapped, and in which distinctions elide, each into the next. I get impatient with wrigglers into word games: I want every inquiry to aim, at least, at saying something definite. Most traditional definitions of civilization, however, have been overdefined: excessively rigid, contrived, and artificial -imposed on the evidence instead of arising from it.

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