Equality: The Impossible Quest
By Martin van Creveld
Published in March 2015
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
I’ve had this book lying around in my audiobook library for a few years, so I decided to finally take a crack at it. All I can say is that it was very disappointing.
The first few chapters of the book made me optimistic: the book is branded as a cursory overview of how ideas of egalitarianism evolved throughout the ages. The topic seemed fascinating, and Martin van Creveld has written several other books which I’ve really liked.
However, I found that the quality of the historiography was very poor. He makes broad statements such as “no non-Western civilizations have ever come up with egalitarian ideals” which are blatantly untrue.
His story jumps from tribal societies, to the ancient Greeks, straight to the Enlightenment and modern era. He entirely skips the many egalitarian experiments of the Middle Ages, notably ignoring the fiercely egalitarian Islamic societies of the era.
The book is structured in the following way: van Creveld gives a historical example, shares a few hot takes, and moves to the next example.
Part of the issue might be that writing good survey histories can be extremely difficult, especially if they are relatively short. One book that did this quite well was “Against the Gods” a survey history of statistics.
Overall, I found this book to be very disappointing. It is clever enough to mislead someone with a cursory understanding of history, and too shallow to please someone with any deep knowledge.
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