7 Tipping Points


Over the past weekend, I read an exceptionally good history book.  I know that most programmers are not quick to pick up a history book and might rather read the Comprehensive Reference to COBOL Development for the Modern Computer instead.  But seriously, this book is worth a look.  its title is: “7 Tipping Points that Saved the World by Chris and Ted Steward.  What makes this book different is that the authors take the reader on a tour of several thousand years of world history to explore just seven events that they maintain hold the key to defining the world we live in today, specifically the freedoms we currently enjoy in America.

While one might argue for a different set of 7 events or maybe 8 events or even 10, perhaps more interesting is the reasoning why the authors chose these events over others.  I will not detail these 7 key events here because that would ruin your discovery of how the authors made their choices, but I will whet your appetite by giving you a short description of each one.

The first event occurred around 700 BC when the Assyrians, after defeating most of the Middle East turned away from conquering Jerusalem leaving it as the single place where Judaism could survive.  How does that affect our democratic free nation?  I’ll leave that to the authors to explain.

The second tipping point occurred a little over 200 years later in 480 BC when a small band of Spartans along with an assorted group of local soldiers tried but failed to protect what we now know as Greece from a Persian invasion at the Thermopylae Pass.  How can democracy rise from such a defeat?  The key lies in what the previously disorganized city-states of Greece did next.

Fast forward 800 years to the rise of Emperor Constantine and his battle over Caesar Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge which ultimately led to re-uniting the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great and the rule of Christianity in the Roman empire.

The fourth key occurred in France or Gaul as it was known at the time at the Battlefield of Poitiers.  Here a small band of warriors under Charles Martel stood against a larger invading force of Muslims and prevented the Muslims from moving deeper into southern Europe.

The fifth tipping point involves Genghis Khan and his descendants.  In the early 13th century Genghis Khan , a title for his real name was Temujin, conquered more territory than any other single man and in far fewer years holding territory from the Pacific Ocean in the east to Eastern Europe in the west.  But why did they stop their advance into the rest of Europe which surely would have changed our history dramatically?  BTW, did you know that a descendant of Genghis Khan still ruled in Uzbekistan until 1920?

The sixth tipping point was not a battle.  Rather it was the discovery of the new world by Columbus.  The problem was that Europe in those days was on the brink of collapse, if not serious decline.  Corruption in the Church and in governments combined with a decrease in innovation, plagues, hunger, death and disease threatened the very continued existence of Europe.  But the discovery of the ‘new world’ gave renewed hope, challenge, access to gold and new food sources, and it also gave people a new sense of destiny.  As you read this chapter, think about some of the parallels to our world today.  Where is our ‘new’ world and did we abdicate our future when we cut the shuttle program without a real replacement?

The final event or tipping point was the Battle of Britain.  This multi-month air war at the start of WWII may have changed the destiny of Europe, not just England.  But as you read this chapter, see if you are not struck as I was by the description of some of the events and attitudes leading up to this event.  The calls for pacifism and disarmament in England are echoed in the news today.  Resentment over the wealthy amid high unemployment of 25 to 70% sounds like it came right out of our newspapers.  Dissatisfaction with the government of Britain and the flirtation with communism as an alternative to the current problems by the intellectual elite of England conned by the propaganda of Stalin’s Russia sounds all too familiar to events today in America.

If at all possible, get this book and read it, study it, learn the patterns because history does repeat itself but only if we let it by not learning from it.

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