Book review: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, by Francis Fukuyama.
This ambitious attempt to explain the rise of civilization (especially the rule of law) is partly successful.
The most important idea in the book is that the Catholic church (in the Gregorian Reforms) played a critical role in creating important institutions.
The church differed from religions in other cultures in that it was sufficiently organized to influence political policy, but not strong enough to become a state. This lead it to acquire resources by creating rules that enabled people to leave property to the church (often via wills, which hardly existed before then). This turned what had been resources belonging to some abstract group (families or ancestors) into things owned by individuals, and created rules for transferring those resources.
In the process, it also weakened the extended family, which was essential to having a state that impartially promoted the welfare of a society that was larger than a family.
He also provides a moderately good description of China’s earlier partial adoption of something similar in its merit-selected bureaucracy.
I recommend reading the first 7 chapters plus chapter 16. The rest of the book contains more ordinary history, including some not-too-convincing explanations of why northwest Europe did better than the rest of Christianity.