UNDERSTANDING THE EAST AND THE WEST
This is a series of books trying to explain some of the main civilisations to each other. The four main civilisations covered are described in the book 'China, Japan, Europe and the Anglo-sphere: A Comparative Analysis'(2018). English civilisation is explained in two books: 'The peculiarity of the English; A personal view' (2019) and 'Understanding the English; A personal A-Z' (2019).
A lecture given by Alan at the University of Malta reflecting on China and Europe can be found here.
China, Japan, Europe and the Anglo-sphere
We live in a confused and confusing world. This is partly caused by the massive growth of inter-civilisational contacts driven by economic, cultural and communication changes. It is urgent that we understand each other if we are to survive and thrive, yet most of us know very little about the world outside our own civilisation. This book describes the central features of four great civilisations, their history and culture: China, Japan, Europe and the Anglosphere. Through a comparison of their deeper cultural logic and through investigating their dreams and nightmares, their religious, economic, political and social similarities and differences, we may come to a deeper appreciation of their worlds and our own. Drawing on fifty years of travel through these different civilisations and teaching about them at the University of Cambridge, Alan Macfarlane explores how we can remain different and yet live in some sort of harmony through mutual appreciation and understanding.
A four workshop series on ‘The Harmony of Civilisations’ given by Alan at Sichuan University can be found here.
Understanding the English, a personal A-Z
This is a book written for those who come to England from abroad, whether as short-term visitors, to be educated or engage in work, whether they come from the Continent or from other civilisations, especially the Far East. It provides over a hundred short descriptions of prominent English features and then tries to explain their origin and function. Under the first two letters, for example, we have: Absurdity, Amateurs, Antiquities, Aplomb, Barter, Beef, Beer, Brexit, Bribery and Bureaucracy. It is based on the experience of coming from India as a child and learning to be English, and then looking back as a historian of England, and an anthropologist exploring Nepal, Japan and China. It is a summation of over a dozen books about the English, from The Origins of English Individualism (1978) to The Invention of the Modern World (2014).
The peculiarity of the English, a personal view
Alan Macfarlane writes as both an insider (British parents, brought up and educated and living in England, working on English history), and as an outsider (five-eighths Scots, working as an anthropologist in Nepal, Japan and China).
The book explains very simply some of the key features that those who wish to understand the English might like to know about, and what has caused some of the special of the English. These include politics (democracy), economy (capitalism), family (individualism), religion (puritanism, class (fluidity), education (for life), games (football), humour (irony), arts (literature), empire (identity).
A related lecture given by Alan at an Anglo-Polish Conference in Warsaw can be found here.