Our world today has become so globalized, so socially and technologically complex that current ideas and institutions haven’t enabled us to address our most pressing problems. From global warming to possible food, water, and energy shortages, these challenges demand international cooperation; yet, that cooperation has proven impossible among today’s nations. This is not the first time in world history that existing societies could not address the challenges of rapid change.
In The Axial Ages of World History, Ken Baskin and Dmitri M. Bondrenko compare the modern world’s dilemma with that of a similar period, the Axial Age (800-200 BCE). In both the Axial Age and Modernity (1500 CE-present), forces of increasing social and technological complexity drove the societies moving through them to transform the way people in them thought about the world and governed themselves. The book explores how this transformation, from the chaos of failed institutions to the order of newly evolved ways of living together, occurred in axial Greece and China and in modern Western Europe—in waves of horrific wars, experiments in new types of government, and in radical spiritual renewals. While the authors emphasize that there is no way to predict which of many possible outcomes will occur, in the book’s conclusion, they share some thoughts on actions people can begin taking today to improve that outcome, whatever it might be.
“In this book, Ken Baskin and Dmitri Bondarenko compare Modernity with the period historians know as the Axial Age (800-200 BCE) as times of transformation, responding to rapidly increasing social complexity. In doing so, they try to apply the experience of the earlier period, and the time of cultural achievement that followed it, to our time of ideological tension among civilizations. The great achievement of this relatively small book is the lucid way in which the coauthors present a picture of complex worldwide developments, based upon their mastery of recent and older literature, and their efforts to point to a way out of the hopelessly divided socio-political situation of today.”
—Henri J.M. Claessen, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Leiden University, is author of
Structural Change: Evolution and Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology.
“With a lens of great magnification, the authors search through the intricacies of history, selecting its most important threads to weave together. What emerges is a rich tapestry in which the underlying trajectory of history, not clearly visible to the untutored eye, is brought boldly to the surface. And far from being couched in academic jargon—as one might have supposed—the book is a rare combination of brilliant analysis and beautifully crafted prose. Moreover, it ends on a hopeful note with the authors prescribing what they think societies must do if they are to confront and surmount the challenges that lie ahead.”
—Robert L. Carneiro, Curator Emeritus of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, is author of
Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology: A Critical History.
“I find this a very insightful book, that will help readers to place current cultural developments within the framework of our common past, while contemplating what the future may bring.”
—Fred Spier, University of Amsterdam, is President, International Big History Association, and author of
Big History and the Future of Humanity.