His latest book analyzed 15,000 years of data to explain why the West is dominant. Now the intelligence community wants to know what will happen next.
In the summer of 2011, Ian Morris gave what most of his fellow classics professors would consider an unusual talk. The setting: CIA headquarters. The subject: humanity's future.
Until recently, intelligence analysts had taken no interest in Morris. The Stanford University professor is an authority on ancient Greece who turned to archaeology after failing as a heavy-metal guitarist. Morris makes his home as far from Washington bureaucracy as you can imagine: atop a ridge in this hippie town in the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by towering redwoods and a menagerie of two dogs, two horses, and eight cats.
Yet the British-born 53-year-old is increasingly swapping this world of kale chips and hugs for the company of bankers and spooks. Their interest stems from his 2010 book Why the West Rules—for Now (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), which analyzes 15,000 years of data to explain how the West came to dominate the globe over the past two centuries. Its backbone is an attempt to quantify, going back to the end of the last Ice Age, the "social development" of Eastern and Western societies—basically, their ability to get stuff done.
If that isn't chutzpah enough, the final chapter goes further. It predicts the future.