Jonathan Daly of Illinois University in Chicago offering a long and relevant analysis of my book The Secret of the West (1997 edition), mainly looking into the geographical aspects of my theory.
(Jonathan Daly: Historians Debate the Rise of the West, Routledge, New York, 11 July 2014, 200 pages)

Safetey copy of scanned G-library version: Sep 2014. Source.
The Secret of Science


J. Daly: Historians debate the rise of the West
Chapter 2: "World History" (p.46-66)

A few extracts

page 54

Greater access to waterways made Europe rise (David Cosandey)

Nearly every scholar attempting an explanation of the rise of the West has highlighted geography, though few emphasize it as much as David Cosandey, a theoretical physicist who works in financial risk management at a Swiss bank. His interesting but not widely known study, «The Secret of the West», has unfortunately not been translated into English (19). It is worth discussing briefly here because of the significance of one point he makes, which is related to Diamond’s argument about Europe’s coastline. He begins by stating – in opposition to the „miracle of the West“ camp – that nothing about the European peoples as such predisposed them to success: neither religion, nor culture, nor ethnicity. Everything depended instead on a felicitously synergetic political fragmentation made possible by Europe’s superabundant accesss to waterways. By water one could move people and things cheaper, faster, easier, and more freely – with less interference from rulers or other elites. He cites proof that travel by water in the premodern era often cost 10 to 40 times less in time and money than by land routes. More means of water transportation also meant more intercultural and commercial communication and exchange.
     Cosandey asks what the outline of a continent possessing the greatest advantages for economy growth and fruitful political divisions [fragmentation] should look like and then answers accordingly:

To facilitate commercial activity, the ideal continent should literally "soak" in surrounding waters; that is, should be "thin", each region lying as close as possible to the sea. Moreover, it should be huge, in order to contain a large population. So as to engender a multiplicity of durable states, it must provide distinct regions, well separated by the sea, while remaining interconnected by isthmuses allowing mutual encounters. To reconcile these somewhat contradictory criteria, it needs a coastal profile that looks contorted, serpentine, with countless peninsulas, gulfs, capes, and islands. We will call this type of coastline an articulated thalassography (20).

The term "thalassography" exists in English and refers to the study of small bodies of water like bays, harbors and gulfs. Cosandey's point is that continent or region with the most indented coastline will automatically develop more successfully than other continents or regions. He believes [that] precisely this feature enabled myriad European states to trade thousands of tons of merchandise and raw materials yearly beginning in the high Middle Ages, numbers that increased century by century. A dozen navigable rivers also provided significant means of communication and transportation and – along with numerous mountain chains – helped define specific geographic regions (see Map 2.2).

page 55
Map 2.2: Coastlines and major rivers of Europe;
Much the world's longest coastline, combined with excellent inland waterways, stimulated Europe's development.


page 56
     Cosandey goes on to describe the far less saw-toothed margins of the world's other continents and regions. It was no coincidence, he argues, that Islam's "Golden Age" coincided with its control over European lands with well-articulated coastlines, like Spain, Sicily, and Greece [note from webmaster: Greece was not included in the islamic-dominated zone in that time, but Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus were] The maritime access of India and China was even worse, with ultimately fateful consequences. Japan was the exception that proved the rule. It alone among non-Western countries enjoyed an articulated thalassography, and therefore it alone managed to absorb and successfully deploy Western technology and methods before the twentieth century.
     The author provides a plethora of data to undergird his argument. The numbers are remarkable. The percentage of peninsulas and islands as a proportion of overall territory for Western Europe is over 56 percent, but less than 4 percent for India, China, and the Islamic world. One is never farther than 800 kilometers from the sea in Western Europe, as against at least 1,200 in the other three. Finally, the length of Western Europe's coastline dwarfs the others – twice a long as that of the Islamic world (which includes Indonesia) [note from webmaster: it does not include Indonesia. I have considered the core Arabic-Islamic world as existing in the XIIth-XIIIth century. (Indonesia has been swallowed later by the muslim civilization, and has anyway always suffered, in spite of its attractive coastline, from a soil that was improper to agriculture. The exception being Java, thanks to its volcanoes.)] nearly four times longer than India's, and over four times China's.
     Cosandey concludes by noting that geomorphology did not predetermine Europe's success or India's failure to develop modern science but only made them more probable. Humans act in all sorts of unpredictable ways, yet geography establishes the parameters in which they act, develop institutions, invent, and create social organizations. Thus, it was significant that "Europe is the only continent that boasts both a large territory, welded into one bloc, and an extremely wild and jagged coastline (21)

Europe's natural endowments favored development (E. L. Jones)

An important earlier work that strongly influenced most geographically oriented studies but that also pushed the boundaries of world history in important directions is The European Miracle by the British-Australian economic historian E.L. Jones (22)



19 David Cosandey, Le Secret de l'Occident: du miracle passé au marasme présent, (Paris, Arléa, 1997).
20 Ibid, 271-272. Italics in the original.
21 Ibid, 314.
page 46

Human interaction fosters advancement (William McNeill)

The foundational contribution to the emergence of "world history" sports an improbable title. In The Rise of the West (1), William McNeill traces the development of civilizations through five thousand years of recorded history and devotes fewer than 150 pages to the West as such. He obviously believed that the rise of the West was the central fact of modern history, but he was just as obviously ready to place that fact in a much wider context.


page 49

Favorable geography gave Eurasia a head start (Jared Diamond)

An eminent American physiologist, ornithologist, historian, and geographer, Jared Diamond, took up McNeill's challenge in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs and Steel, the Fate of Human Societies (12). This fascinating account begins with a conversation the author had in 1972, walking on a beach in New Guinea, where he had spent years studying bird evolution.


Jonathan Daly


First published 2015 (according to first page)
Published 11 July 2014 (according to

2 Park Square, Milton Park Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN, UK
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY10017, USA

Created: 21 Sep 2014 – Last modified: 20 Feb 2017