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William H. McNeill

Bio: William H. McNeill is an academic researcher from University of Chicago. The author has contributed to research in topics: World history & Human migration. The author has an hindex of 35, co-authored 125 publications receiving 9841 citations. Previous affiliations of William H. McNeill include University of California, Berkeley.


Papers
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Book
01 Jan 1976
TL;DR: Professor McNeill, through an accumulation of evidence, demonstrates the central role of pestilence in human affairs and the extent to which it has changed the course of history.
Abstract: This book describes the dramatic impact of infectious diseases on the rise and fall of civilisations. Plague demoralized the Athenian army during the Peloponnesian war, and ravaged the Roman Empire. In the 16th century smallpox was the decisive agent that allowed Cortez with only 600 men to conquer the Aztec empire, whose subjects numbered millions. As recently as 1918-19 an epidemic of influenza claimed twenty-one million victims, and seemed to threaten civilization itself. Diseases such as syphilis, cholera, smallpox and malariahave been devastating to humanity for centuries. Now professor McNeill, through an accumulation of evidence, demonstrates the central role of pestilence in human affairs and the extent to which it has changed the course of history.

1,263 citations

Book
01 Jan 1982
TL;DR: McNeill's The Pursuit of Power as mentioned in this paper explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us.
Abstract: In this magnificent synthesis of military, technological, and social history, William H. McNeill explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us. McNeill moves with equal mastery from the crossbow banned by the Church in 1139 as too lethal for Christians to use against one another to the nuclear missile, from the sociological consequences of drill in the seventeenth century to the emergence of the military-industrial complex in the twentieth. His central argument is that a commercial transformation of world society in the eleventh century caused military activity to respond increasingly to market forces as well as to the commands of rulers. Only in our own time, suggests McNeill, are command economies replacing the market control of large-scale human effort. The Pursuit of Power does not solve the problems of the present, but its discoveries, hypotheses, and sheer breadth of learning do offer a perspective on our current fears and, as McNeill hopes, "a ground for wiser action." "No summary can do justice to McNeill's intricate, encyclopedic treatment. . . . McNeill's erudition is stunning, as he moves easily from European to Chinese and Islamic cultures and from military and technological to socio-economic and political developments. The result is a grand synthesis of sweeping proportions and interdisciplinary character that tells us almost as much about the history of butter as the history of guns. . . . McNeill's larger accomplishment is to remind us that all humankind has a shared past and, particularly with regard to its choice of weapons and warfare, a shared stake in the future." Stuart Rochester, "Washington Post Book World " "Mr. McNeill's comprehensiveness and sensitivity do for the reader what Henry James said that Turgenev's conversation did for him: they suggest 'all sorts of valuable things.' This narrative of rationality applied to irrational purposes and of ingenuity cannibalizing itself is a work of clarity, which delineates mysteries. The greatest of them, to my mind, is why human beings have never learned to cherish their own species." Naomi Bliven, "The New Yorker ""

562 citations


Cited by
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Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson as discussed by the authors used estimates of potential European settler mortality as an instrument for institutional variation in former European colonies today, and they followed the lead of Curtin who compiled data on the death rates faced by European soldiers in various overseas postings.
Abstract: In Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, henceforth AJR, (2001), we advanced the hypothesis that the mortality rates faced by Europeans in different parts of the world after 1500 affected their willingness to establish settlements and choice of colonization strategy. Places that were relatively healthy (for Europeans) were—when they fell under European control—more likely to receive better economic and political institutions. In contrast, places where European settlers were less likely to go were more likely to have “extractive” institutions imposed. We also posited that this early pattern of institutions has persisted over time and influences the extent and nature of institutions in the modern world. On this basis, we proposed using estimates of potential European settler mortality as an instrument for institutional variation in former European colonies today. Data on settlers themselves are unfortunately patchy—particularly because not many went to places they believed, with good reason, to be most unhealthy. We therefore followed the lead of Curtin (1989 and 1998) who compiled data on the death rates faced by European soldiers in various overseas postings. 1 Curtin’s data were based on pathbreaking data collection and statistical work initiated by the British military in the mid-nineteenth century. These data became part of the foundation of both contemporary thinking about public health (for soldiers and for civilians) and the life insurance industry (as actuaries and executives considered the

6,495 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: Given their current scale, biotic invasions have taken their place alongside human-driven atmospheric and oceanic alterations as major agents of global change and left unchecked, they will influence these other forces in profound but still unpredictable ways.
Abstract: Biotic invaders are species that establish a new range in which they proliferate, spread, and persist to the detriment of the environment. They are the most important ecological outcomes from the unprecedented alterations in the distribution of the earth's biota brought about largely through human transport and commerce. In a world without borders, few if any areas remain sheltered from these im- migrations. The fate of immigrants is decidedly mixed. Few survive the hazards of chronic and stochastic forces, and only a small fraction become naturalized. In turn, some naturalized species do become invasive. There are several potential reasons why some immigrant species prosper: some escape from the constraints of their native predators or parasites; others are aided by human-caused disturbance that disrupts native communities. Ironically, many biotic invasions are apparently facilitated by cultivation and husbandry, unintentional actions that foster immigrant populations until they are self-perpetuating and uncontrollable. Whatever the cause, biotic invaders can in many cases inflict enormous environmental damage: (1) Animal invaders can cause extinctions of vulnerable native species through predation, grazing, competition, and habitat alteration. (2) Plant invaders can completely alter the fire regime, nutrient cycling, hydrology, and energy budgets in a native ecosystem and can greatly diminish the abundance or survival of native species. (3) In agriculture, the principal pests of temperate crops are nonindigenous, and the combined expenses of pest control and crop losses constitute an onerous "tax" on food, fiber, and forage production. (4) The global cost of virulent plant and animal diseases caused by parasites transported to new ranges and presented with susceptible new hosts is currently incalculable. Identifying future invaders and taking effective steps to prevent their dispersal and establishment con- stitutes an enormous challenge to both conservation and international commerce. Detection and management when exclusion fails have proved daunting for varied reasons: (1) Efforts to identify general attributes of future invaders have often been inconclusive. (2) Predicting susceptible locales for future invasions seems even more problematic, given the enormous differences in the rates of arrival among potential invaders. (3) Eradication of an established invader is rare, and control efforts vary enormously in their efficacy. Successful control, however, depends more on commitment and continuing diligence than on the efficacy of specific tools themselves. (4) Control of biotic invasions is most effective when it employs a long-term, ecosystem- wide strategy rather than a tactical approach focused on battling individual invaders. (5) Prevention of invasions is much less costly than post-entry control. Revamping national and international quarantine laws by adopting a "guilty until proven innocent" approach would be a productive first step. Failure to address the issue of biotic invasions could effectively result in severe global consequences, including wholesale loss of agricultural, forestry, and fishery resources in some regions, disruption of the ecological processes that supply natural services on which human enterprise depends, and the creation of homogeneous, impoverished ecosystems composed of cosmopolitan species. Given their current scale, biotic invasions have taken their place alongside human-driven atmospheric and oceanic alterations as major agents of global change. Left unchecked, they will influence these other forces in profound but still unpredictable ways.

6,195 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: The authors argue that norms evolve in a three-stage "life cycle" of emergence, cascades, and internalization, and that each stage is governed by different motives, mechanisms, and behavioral logics.
Abstract: Norms have never been absent from the study of international politics, but the sweeping “ideational turn” in the 1980s and 1990s brought them back as a central theoretical concern in the field. Much theorizing about norms has focused on how they create social structure, standards of appropriateness, and stability in international politics. Recent empirical research on norms, in contrast, has examined their role in creating political change, but change processes have been less well-theorized. We induce from this research a variety of theoretical arguments and testable hypotheses about the role of norms in political change. We argue that norms evolve in a three-stage “life cycle” of emergence, “norm cascades,” and internalization, and that each stage is governed by different motives, mechanisms, and behavioral logics. We also highlight the rational and strategic nature of many social construction processes and argue that theoretical progress will only be made by placing attention on the connections between norms and rationality rather than by opposing the two.

5,761 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
Paul Pierson1
TL;DR: In this paper, the authors conceptualized path dependence as a social process grounded in a dynamic of increasing returns, and demonstrated that increasing returns processes are likely to be prevalent and that good analytical foundations exist for exploring their causes and consequences.
Abstract: It is increasingly common for social scientists to describe political processes as “path dependent.” The concept, however, is often employed without careful elaboration. This article conceptualizes path dependence as a social process grounded in a dynamic of “increasing returns.” Reviewing recent literature in economics and suggesting extensions to the world of politics, the article demonstrates that increasing returns processes are likely to be prevalent, and that good analytical foundations exist for exploring their causes and consequences. The investigation of increasing returns can provide a more rigorous framework for developing some of the key claims of recent scholarship in historical institutionalism: Specific patterns of timing and sequence matter; a wide range of social outcomes may be possible; large consequences may result from relatively small or contingent events; particular courses of action, once introduced, can be almost impossible to reverse; and consequently, political development is punctuated by critical moments or junctures that shape the basic contours of social life.

5,652 citations