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Cultures of the West

A History, Volume 1: To 1750

Third Edition

Clifford R. Backman

Publication Date - September 2019

ISBN: 9780190070427

720 pages
6-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $69.99

Presents students with the fundamental questions and ideas that have shaped the Greater West


Cultures of the West: A History, Third Edition, focuses on the ways in which the major ideas and passions of Western culture developed, internally, and how they interacted with the broader world--for good and for ill. The development of such key ideas as religion, science, and philosophy form the central narrative of this book.

Cultures of the West stands apart from other textbooks in a variety of ways, the first being thematic unity. What did people think and believe, throughout our history, about human nature, the right way to live, God, the best forms of government, or the meaning of human life? Rather than maintaining a single interpretive stance, author Clifford R. Backman relies upon a consistent set of questions: What did people think and feel throughout the centuries about politics, science, religion, and sex? How did they come to their positions regarding the right way to live? Backman's many years of experience in the classroom have informed his approach--students respond to engaging questions more than they are inspired by facts.

New to this Edition

  • An improved organization in Volume One treats the Ancient Near East in a more coherent and streamlined fashion and integrates coverage of ancient Rome into two chapters
  • An extended treatment of Eastern Europe throughout, including a discussion of the early history of the Slavs
  • An expanded and improved map program includes seventeen new maps and thirty-eight corrected or updated maps
  • Forty-one new photos--many of which pertain to Eastern Europe--vividly illustrate the discussion in each chapter
  • Updated scholarship informs the narrative, with many new titles in the chapter bibliographies
  • A redesigned format provides students with a warmer and more accessible interaction with the narrative
  • Improved and expanded digital learning resources, including an enhanced eBook with embedded study aids, greatly enhance student engagement with the text


  • Emphasizes the development of values, focusing on ideas and sensibilities and viewing the events of each era in relation to them
  • Interprets Western history on a broad geographic and cultural scale that includes the Middle East in the general narrative, as a permanently constitutive element of the Greater West
  • Treats religious belief as the center of the narrative, because the values upheld by the three great monotheisms of the Greater West--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--have had, and continue to have, a profound effect on the development of social mores, intellectual pursuits, artistic endeavors, politics, and international relations
  • Incorporates an abundance of primary sources into the narrative
  • Consistently treats the history of women and gender relations in the main narrative
  • Argues positions explicitly, not shying away from value judgments

About the Author(s)

Clifford R. Backman is Associate Professor of History at Boston University, where he has been a member of the department since 1989. He is currently at work on a book that traces the development of toleration and interpersonal forgiveness in medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


"Cultures of the West provides a solid, singular narrative that focuses on the larger values that define Western Civilization. At a time when the topic of Western Civilization is under great scrutiny, Backman brings to light many of the notable achievements of the West and their connection to a larger value system."--Anthony Nardini, Rowan University

"Cultures of the West is professional, informative, clear, and well-written. Backman's approach of considering values behind institutions and events is clever and unique."--Carolyn Coretti, The University of Mississippi

"This is an innovative approach to the history of the Western world, with an emphasis on the values behind historical changes and challenges. It offers a unique approach to the traditional histories of Western civilization by providing a focus on contributions from the Middle East along with the usual political and social narrative."--Matthew Ruane, Florida Institute of Technology

"Cultures of the West is an excellent choice because of the singular narrative that focuses on culture while still communicating the important aspects needed for a survey course."--Patrice Laurent Diaz, Montgomery County Community College

Table of Contents

    About the Author
    Note on Dates
    Prologue: Before History

    1. Water and Soil, Stone and Metal: The First Civilizations, 10,000 BCE-2100 BCE
    Ancient Mesopotamia and the Emergence of Civilization
    Mesopotamian Life: Farms and Cities, Writing and Numbers
    Mesopotamian Religion: Heaven, the Great Above, the Great Below
    From Sumer to Old Babylon
    Ancient Egypt, Gift of the Nile
    Old Kingdom Egypt
    Egyptian Religion: The Kingdom of the Dead
    Middle Kingdom Egypt
    The New Kingdom Empire
    The Indo-European Irruption
    The Age of Iron Begins

    2. The Monotheists: Jews and Persians, 1200 BCE-550 BCE
    The Bible and History
    The Promised Land
    Dreams of a Golden Age
    Women and the Law
    Prophets and Prophecy
    The Struggle for Jewish Identity
    Persia and the Religion of Fire

    3. The Ancient Greeks: From Arrival to Glory, 2000-479 BCE
    The First Greeks
    The Search for Mythic Ancestors in Archaic Age Greece
    Colonists, Hoplites, and the Path to Citizenship
    A Cult of Masculinity
    Civilized Pursuits: Lyric Poetry
    Sparta: A Militarized Citizenry
    Miletus: The Birthplace of Philosophy
    Athens: Home to Democracy
    The Persian Wars

    4. The Classical and Hellenistic Ages, 479-30 BCE
    Athens's Golden Age
    The Polis: Ritual and Restraint
    The Excluded: Women, Children, and Slaves
    The Invention of Drama
    The Peloponnesian Disaster
    Advances in Historical Inquiry
    Medicine as Natural Law
    The Flowering of Greek Philosophy
    The Rise of Macedonia and the Conquests of Alexander the Great
    The Hellenistic World
    The Maccabaean Revolt
    Second Temple Judaism

    5. Romans and Republicans, 753 BCE-27 BCE
    Ancient Italy and the Rise of Rome
    From Monarchy to Republic
    The Republic of Virtue
    Size Matters
    Can the Republic Be Saved?

    6. Rome's Empire, 27 BCE-305 CE
    Rome's Golden Age: The Augustan Era
    The Sea, the Sea
    Roman Lives and Values
    Height of the Pax Romana: The "Five Good Emperors"
    Life and Economy
    The Time of Troubles

    7. The Rise of Christianity in a Roman World, 40 BCE-300 CE
    The Vitality of Roman Religion
    The Jesus Mystery
    A Crisis in Tradition
    Ministry and Movement
    What Happened to His Disciples?
    Christianities Everywhere
    Romans in Pursuit
    Philosophical Foundations: Stoicism and Neoplatonism

    8. The Early Middle Ages, 306-750
    Imperial Decline: Rome's Overreach
    A Christian Emperor and a Christian Church
    The Rise of "New Rome": The Byzantine Empire
    Barbarian Kings and Warlords
    Divided Estates and Kingdoms
    Germanic Law
    Christian Paganism
    Christian Monasticism

    9. The Expansive Realm of Islam, 30-900
    "Age of Ignorance": The Arabian Background
    The Qur'an and History
    From Preacher to Conqueror
    Conversion or Compulsion?
    The Islamic Empire
    Sunnis and Shi'a
    Islam and the Classical Traditions
    Women and Islam

    10. Reform and Renewal in the Greater West, 750-1258
    The Carolingian Ascent
    Imperial Coronation
    Carolingian Collapse
    The Splintering of the Caliphate
    The Reinvention of Western Europe
    Mediterranean Cities
    The Reinvention of the Church
    The Reinvention of the Islamic World
    The Call for Crusades
    The Crusades
    Turkish Power and Byzantine Decline
    Judaism Reformed, Renewed, and Reviled
    The Emergence of the Slavs

    11. Worlds Brought Down, 1258-1453
    Late Medieval Europe
    The Guild System
    The Mendicant Orders
    Early Representative Government
    The Weakening of the Papacy
    Noble Privilege and Popular Rebellion
    The Hundred Years' War
    The Plague
    The Mongol Takeover
    In the Wake of the Mongols
    Persia under the Il-Khans
    A New Center for Islam
    The Ottoman Turks

    12. Renaissances and Reformations, 1350-1563
    Rebirth or Culmination?
    The Political and Economic Matrix
    The Renaissance Achievement
    Christian Humanism
    Erasmus: Humanist Scholar and Social Critic
    Martin Luther: The Gift of Salvation
    Luther's Rebellion Against the Church
    The Reformation Goes International
    Calvin and "The Elect"
    Strife and Settlement in England
    Catholic Reform and the Council of Trent
    The Society of Jesus
    What about the Catholic and Orthodox East?

    13. Worlds Old and New, 1450-1700
    European Voyages of Discovery
    New Continents and Profits
    Conquest and Epidemics
    The Copernican Drama
    Galileo and the Truth of Numbers
    Inquisition and Inquiry
    The Revolution Broadens
    The Ethical Costs of Science
    The Islamic Retreat from Science
    Thinking about Truth
    Newton's Mathematical Principles

    14. The Wars of All Against All, 1540-1648
    The Triumph of Death
    The Godly Society
    From the Peace of Augsburg to the Edict of Nantes: The French Wars of Religion
    Dutch Ascendancy and Spanish Eclipse
    The Thirty Years' War
    Enemies Within: The Hunt for Witches
    The Jews of the East and West
    The Waning of the Sultanate
    New Centers of Intellectual and Cultural Life
    Wars of Religion: The Eastern Front
    Economic Change in an Atlantic World

    15. From Westphalia to Paris: Regimes Old and New, 1648-1750
    The Peace of Westphalia: 1648
    The Argument for Tyranny
    The Social Contract
    Absolute Politics
    Police States
    Self-Indulgence with a Purpose: The Example of Versailles
    Paying for Absolutism
    Mercantilism and Poverty
    International Trade in a Mercantilist Age
    The Slave Trade and Domestic Subjugation
    Domesticating Dynamism: Regulating Culture
    The Control of Private Life
    England's Separate Path: The Rise of Constitutional Monarchy
    Ottoman Absolutism
    Persian Absolutism
    The Return of Uncertainty

    Reference Maps
    Appendix. Primary Sources

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