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Summary Of Book, Five Epochs of Civilization
There is a question as to which experiences and events ought to be included in world history. History consists of a set of stories, and stories describe a passage from one situation to another. The issue of world history might be resolved by considering which stories best describe the transition of human societies from small tribal communities to the large pluralistic communities that we have today.

It may be that this process does not lead straight from one situation to another but is divided into parts, whose stories would each tend to go in a different direction. The problem of world history then becomes one of determining the parts - deciding where the historical turning points are - and so splitting the mass of human experience into epochs with consistent themes. These we associate with the five civilizations.

This book finds the following patterns in world history:

Civilization as we know it began with the rise of primitive city-states in Egypt and Mesopotamia during the 4th millennium, B.C. For the first three thousand years, the dominant theme of history was the accumulation of power in the hands of political rulers. These rulers gained authority over particular territories through exercise of military might. From city-states they built kingdoms; and empires from kingdoms. The culmination of this first civilization was the formation of four world empires which dominated the Old World in the 2nd century, A.D.: the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han Chinese empires. Then barbarians overran the civilized world and this epoch came to an end.
The second historical epoch began in the middle of the 1st millennium, B.C., when an extraordinary group of philosophers, prophets, and religious thinkers lived. From them came schools of philosophy and systems of creedal religions. The story of this epoch centers in three world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - and other religious or political entities that interacted creatively with them. In the end, the world religions fought one another, mimicking political empires. This epoch came to an end in the middle of the 2nd millennium, A.D., when the human spirit turned away from religious violence and coercion to embrace other interests.
The third epoch began with the territorial and cultural outburst of European peoples known as the Renaissance. It was then that modern commercial institutions were established, humanist scholarship remade education, and sailing vessels connected once-isolated societies around the earth. The early voyages of transoceanic discovery led to political and commercial rivalries between the Atlantic nations and to colonization and enslavement of non-European peoples. The scientific, industrial, and democratic revolutions of this epoch led to wars with technologically advanced weaponry. In the end, the whole world was twice caught up in this violent European experience, producing a backlash.
As relief from serious purposes, humanity in the fourth epoch of civilization turned to popular entertainment. Workers caught in the cogs of industrial society wanted lighthearted diversions to help them relax and have fun. With the invention of various electronic devices, the "mass media" took over this culture. Live performances in opera houses or vaudeville theaters gave way to phonograph recordings, motion pictures, and radio and television broadcasts. Rock 'n roll music created an international youth culture. Entertainer celebrities became powerful figures.
Now in the fourth epoch, humanity stands on the brink of a fifth civilization sparked by computer technology. Its history, being mostly in the future, is speculative.

A second thread runs through this book: the assertion that each civilization began with the introduction of a new dominant cultural technology. The first civilization began with systems of primitive or ideographic writing; the second, with alphabetic writing; the third, with printing; the fourth, with electronic technologies of communication; and, the fifth, with computer technology. These civilizations appear to be worldwide.

In addition to histories of the four civilizations that have to date appeared in a fully developed form, this book includes a history of cultural technologies. It discusses the relationship between cultural technologies and social values, describes the process of society's development into a system of pluralistic institutions, identifies changing beliefs and models of personality in the different civilizations, and speculates on the future course of historical events in the fifth civilization, the Quintepoch.

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