We have encountered Ian Morris before on this blog when I reviewed his appearance on Radio Open Source. Also his lecture at SALT Seminars (aka The Long Now Podcast) comes forth from his book Why the West Rules for Now.You will get the same point again, how geography shapes history in general and how in particular the West profited from the circumstance it was closer to the Americas than China. Morris is a great speaker, so even if you are not immediately drawn to this subject, you are bound to enjoy this audio (feed). You can also see the lecture in video, which comes at a premium, but in my opinion not much is gained by the visuals.
What you can learn from this lecture by Ian Morris is not just how the West pulled ahead of the rest of the world and what the set of circumstances were to trigger this and how this in his opinion worked. His view is a general theory of history and therefore the approach, with such a prominent role of geography, can explain much more than just the rise (and impending fall) of the west. For example, as you can learn from the Q&A session at the end, it also explains how the peoples of the steppe rose to become dominant and what next development neutralized their relative advantage.
Mind, this theory is not just about geography. People's scientific, technological and cultural achievements are also crucial, yet Morris claims that every human advance is rapidly copied all over the world, neutralizing the social advantages and setting the balance back to a geographically determined stacking of the cards. However, the new technologies do cause certain geographic criteria to become more or alternatively less important. As to the main point, not until ocean travel becomes technically available, the distance to the Americas is not a relevant factor to set the west apart from the east.
More SALT (Long Now):
Quick podcast reviews,
Disappearing cultures - Wade Davis,
Ran Levi about The Long Now,
The Long Now Podcast.