Historian William H McNeill dead at 98
NEW YORK – William H. McNeill, the prize-winning scholar who wove the stories of civilizations worldwide into the landmark “The Rise of the West” and helped pioneer the history of disease and epidemics in “Plagues and People,” has died at age 98.
McNeill died Friday at his home in Torrington, Connecticut, according to Steve Koppes, associate news director at the University of Chicago, where McNeill was a professor emeritus.
McNeill wrote more than a dozen books, notably “The Rise of the West,” published in 1963 and greeted by The New York Times as “the most stimulating and fascinating” work of world history ever released. It won the National Book Award, sold well despite exceeding 800 pages and later was ranked No. 71 by the Modern Library among the 20th century’s best English-language nonfiction books.
The title of McNeill’s book was a direct challenge to Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West.” But “The Rise of the West,” its narrative extending from the Paleolithic Age to the present, was also born out of a Freudian struggle with McNeill’s hero and father figure Arnold Toynbee, then the reigning scholar of world history. Toynbee believed that civilizations of the East and West had essentially developed independently and their stories were separate. McNeill countered that they were very much part of one story, one of “contacts and “exchanges” and the triumph of Western innovation over the stagnation of Muslim and Chinese culture.
“Indeed, world history since 1500 may be thought of as a race between the West’s growing power to molest the rest of the world and the increasingly desperate efforts of other peoples to stave Westerners off,” wrote McNeill, who also cautioned that another civilization could yet overtake the West.
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