Get Your Free Audiobook

The Square and the Tower

Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power
Written by: Niall Ferguson
Narrated by: John Sackville
Length: 16 hrs and 5 mins
Categories: History, World
4 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

After 30 days, Audible is ₹199/mo. Cancel anytime.

OR

Publisher's 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
Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    1
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    1
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1
  • 4 Stars
    1
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

No Reviews are Available
Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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 person found this helpful

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Marino10
  • 29-01-18

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.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ian
  • 04-04-18

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...

21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Mr. Roel Verhoeven
  • 11-05-18

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.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • ayman
  • 09-09-18

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

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Mr. B. Lynch
  • 05-04-18

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 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Bjørn-Rune Hanssen
  • 27-01-18

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.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Olly Buxton
  • 22-10-17

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 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Iain Leedham
  • 22-12-19

Bought by mistake

I really should read the stuff about a book but my eyesight is not very good and I just assumed that this was a novel, it's not

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Andrew S
  • 03-07-19

Academic Reference

I managed to listen to the end. It is a bland academic reference, not an investigation. However it does touch on some topics which I found interesting, namely future of Social Networking and world currency options.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Jonathan Scott
  • 20-07-18

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.

5 people found this helpful

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Pierz Newton-John
  • 12-11-17

Interesting analysis, but quit with the accents already!

I’m not sure where the mania came from among Audible readers for performing every quote in the supposed accent of its author, but it should stop. Even among gifted voice actors it serves little purpose other than to impress you with the reader’s mimicry, and is mainly just distracting. In the case of John Sackville, the accents range from passable (Scottish) to terrible (New Zealand), and it detracts from the experience. It’s a history book not a radio play. It’s a pity because Sackville has a pleasant reading voice and nothing extra needs to be added. That gripe over, the book is an interesting take on various significant historical epochs and events, examining them as it does through the lens of the “network”. This does sometimes provide novel insights, though at other times the role of the network seems rather tenuous, with the result that the book can seem a little unfocused.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Daniel
  • 24-10-17

Slow, dull and difficult to listen to

I've struggled through the better part of an hour through this book, but I've already decided to take up Audible on their refund policy.

They should have had the copywriter who wrote the blurb for this book actually rewrite the book itself. I was excited after reading the blurb, and wanted to get into a bit more history ... but this was a terrible place to start. The book reads more like an academic treatise than a book for reading pleasure, which is great if you're a professor I guess, but for the lay-reader of history such as I, it was not a fun experience.

Too much effort has been put into details that don't seem to matter, and adding two or three quotes or facts on a topic where one would have sufficed. And so far, I haven't had any hints that anything more interesting is coming.

But the most irritating thing about this book for me was not the book itself, but the intolerable narration. The narrator has taken it upon himself to try and impersonate the accent of every person or entity quoted in the book, and it's ridiculously irritating. He switches from his native British accent to Scottish, German, French and American — sometimes multiple times within a sentence. He even uses an American accent when quoting a line from the Harvard Business Review, for goodness' sake. I mean, come on — is that really necessary? It makes for an extremely unpleasant listening experience, and seems like he's more interested in showing off how good at accents he is (and hat off to him, his accents are pretty good) than actually making the book nice to listen to.

Sadly I cannot review anything beyond the first hour because I've already wasted enough time on this book, and I disliked it so much as to come and write this review so hopefully nobody else wastes an hour if the things above would turn them off too.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 26-05-20

FOOTNOTE

The footnote fad = Authors intellectually wanking oneselves. Footnote, cut this shit out pompous nerds.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Philip Bateman - Bravo Charlie
  • 06-02-20

Deep insights, history and fundamental questions

Several points of this book stood out to me. I transcribed them below as verbatim from my bookmarks - the research on Stalin and that period in history really shocked / surprised me as well, though I didn't feel it relevant to include - listen to the book, there is so much more than just the below!

****

A central theme is that the tension between distributed networks and hierarchical orders is as old as humanity itself, it exists regardless of the state of technology, though technology may have the upper hand.

# Early Adoption Centrality

Network structure can be as important as the idea itself in determining the speed and extent of diffusion. In the process of going viral, a key role is played by nodes, that are not merely hubs or brokers, but gatekeepers. People who decide whether or not to pass information to their part of the network. Their decision will be based partly on how they think that information will reflect back on them.

# Acceptance of an idea can require it to be transmitted by more than one or two sources.

A complex cultural contagion, unlike a simple disease contagion, first needs to attain a critical mass of early adopters with high degree centrality; relatively large numbers of influential friends. in the words of Duncan Watts, the key to assessing the likelihood of a contagion like cascade, is to focus not, on the stimulus itself, but on the structure of the network, the stimulus hits. This helps explain why, for every idea that goes viral, there are countless others that fizzle out in obscurity, because they began with the wrong node, cluster or network.

# Disintegration of large systems

Conway, a systems analyst, with experience of government defense contracts, had observed that "..the structures of large systems tend to disintegrate during development, qualitatively more so than with small systems"

# The architect of the successful British Vote Leave referrendum in 2016 - Dominic Cummins

Almost uniquely in the British Political class, Cummings had long not only been interested in history, which he had studied at Oxford, but also in complexity and networks. With only a limited budget ($10 million pounds) and limited time (10 months), Cummings had to fight not only "decision makers at the apex of centralised hierarchies" who nearly all who opposed Brexit, but also the undisciplined politicians on his own side. The odds were stacked against leave.

Amongst the keys to its narrow victory, Cummings argued were "nearly a billion targeted digital adverts, experimental polling, a data science team of extremely smart physicists, and a baseball bat marked 'Turkey / NHS / $350 million pounds'" - an allusion to the nearly largely untruthful slogans that experiments had shown were the most likely to get people to vote Leave.

For Cummings Brexit was not a victory for the populist right at all, as his campaign had delivered for the combined right wing and left elements; the threat of more Muslim immigrants if Turkey joined the EU and the promise of more money for the National Health Service if Britain left.

# Networks Designed to resist breakage

An intellectual arms race is now underway, to devise a viable doctrine of cyber-security. It seems unlikely that those steeped in the traditional thinking of national security will win it. Perhaps the realistic goal, is not to deter attacks or retaliate against them, but to regulate all the various networks upon which our society depends, so that they are resilient, or better yet "Anti-fragile" - a term coined by Nassim Taleb, to describe a system that grows stronger under attack.

Those, like Taleb, who inhabit the world of financial risk management, saw in 2008, just how fragile the international financial network was. The failure of a single investment bank, nearly brought the whole system of global credit down.

The rest of us have now caught up with the bankers and traders, we are all now as interconnected as they were a decade ago. Like the financial network, our social, commercial and infrastructural networks are under constant attack from fools and knaves, and there is very little indeed that we can do to deter them.

The best we can do, is to design and build our networks, so that they can withstand the ravages of cyberia.

That means resisting the temptation to build complexity, when, as in the case of financial regulation, simplicity is a better option. Above all, it means understanding the structures of the networks we create.

"When half the nodes, of a random graph, the size of most real world networks are removed, the network is destroyed. But, when the same procedure is carried out against a scale free model of a similar size, the giant connected component resists, even after removing 80% of the nodes, and the average distance between nodes, is practically the same, as at the beginning".

That, is a vitally important insight, for those who's task is to design networks that can be 'anti-fragile' in the face of a deliberate, targeted attack.

# Optimism vs reality

"I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange ideas, the world would automatically become a better place, I was wrong about that" - Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, May 2017

# The dichotomy of network and heirarchies

The problems of 2017, are not nearly so novel, as we would like to imagine *** the dichotomy between network and hierarchies, is an ancient idea. The frescos painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico) in the Sala dei Nove ("Salon of Nine") are amongst the greatest achievements of 14th century Italian art (showing this dichotomy) *** The problems of war and peace, and of good and bad government, are nothing new. Technologies come and ago, the world remains a world, of squares and towers.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Richard
  • 21-05-19

Excellent

Ferguson ‘s best piece of writing yet. He is persuasive, entertaining and informative. He hadn’t been able to encapsulate not only recent historical events, but provides an insight to the challenge we face and also that the future of mankind may indeed be much different from its past.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Alastair
  • 16-10-17

interesting perspective

Over simplifies some more contemporary events, perhaps necessarily to convey it's point on a macro scale. Otherwise very interesting core concept. Sheds light on the perspectives of the author who himself is likely analogious to a contemporary 'illuminatus'

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Mitch
  • 19-05-18

Meh

Annoying accents by narrator. Word 'network' said 56,293 times. Six words remaining to review this?