OWL Magazine Korea

“The Five Forces Shaping World History” by Saito Takashi

There is a famous saying, “A nation that forgets its history has no future.” While the origin of this quote is unknown, it underscores the importance of being interested in the records and traces of the past.

As history often repeats itself, understanding it allows us to predict the future to some extent. Moreover, by delving into history, we can gain insight into the events and elements that have been central to shaping history, thereby providing impetus towards a better future.

“Fascinating History Book Explaining History through Five Major Themes”

This book, authored by a Japanese writer, was published in 2009, shortly after the global turmoil caused by the subprime mortgage crisis.

While conventional history books typically arrange historical events chronologically, this book takes a different approach. It categorizes the forces that have moved world history into “five” and elucidates how these elements have operated through examples.

Thanks to this unique approach, the book deviates from the boredom often associated with traditional history books. It’s a book that presents history in such an engaging manner that it’s not easily found elsewhere. Although similar formats have been used in books like “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” it gained recognition relatively late in South Korea.

“The Five Major Themes and Waves Guiding History”

The book discusses desire, modernism, imperialism, monsters, and religion as the five major themes. Rather than examining history piecemeal based on regions or eras, it explores these broad themes, offering an intriguing structure.

  1. Desire (Desire for Possession)
  2. Modernism (Modernization)
  3. Imperialism (Desire for Conquest)
  4. Monsters (Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism, etc.)
  5. Religion

“History of Desire: Desire Moves the World.”

In the first theme, desire, the book starts with the topic “Starbucks and Globalization,” focusing on the iconic cultural beverages, coffee and tea.

It delves into the roles coffee, tea, and other beverages played in world history, how these cultures originated, and the marketing techniques employed to spread them. For instance, coffee originated from the habits of Sufi Muslims, and its arousal effect aided meditation, contributing to its spread. Additionally, it discusses the difference between coffee and tea culture, with “coffee breaks” representing short rests during work, while “tea time” signifies a time for tea consumption.

The narrative also explores desire for commodities, leading to colonialism. The book traces how the desire for ownership evolved into a desire to possess the source of commodities, ultimately leading to colonization.

Furthermore, it touches upon the significance of gold and iron, symbolizing power and practicality, respectively. The interplay between these desires and the development of cities and brands is also discussed.


Desire naturally led to modernization, signifying accelerated progress. The book highlights how modernization based on desire for power propelled Europe ahead of Asia, leading to a dramatic reversal.

It discusses the development of democracy and republicanism in ancient Greece and Rome, contrasting with the lack of such progress in Asia. It also explores how Martin Luther’s religious reform and translation of the Bible into German contributed to empowering the masses with knowledge, challenging the authority of the church.

Additionally, it touches upon Jeremy Bentham’s concept of the Panopticon and other aspects of modernization.

“Imperialism: Why Did Rulers Obsess Over Territorial Expansion?”

Those consumed by desire inevitably became interested in the lands that produced their desired goods, leading European nations, with greater power, to establish colonies.

“Monsters: Social Systems”

The fourth theme, monsters, refers to societal systems like capitalism and socialism. It discusses how socialism influenced China and India’s growth alongside capitalism, with India’s caste system hindering its progress despite legal abolition.

Max Weber predicted the downfall of socialism due to its bureaucratic tendencies. Fascism is also explored, particularly why people were enamored with Nazism in Germany, defined as an unconditional opposition spirit.


Religion, integral to history and life, cannot be overlooked. It has profoundly influenced Korean history, with Buddhism during the Goryeo era and Confucianism during the Joseon era.

The three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have roots in Judaism. Christianity identifies Jesus as the Messiah, while Judaism awaits the Messiah and Islam regards Muhammad as the final prophet.

Ultimately, the world’s history has been shaped by the conflicts and collaborations among these religions.

This book offers a fresh perspective on world history, providing a broader understanding beyond isolated events or periods. Viewing history from a macroscopic standpoint can enhance our comprehension and pave the way for a more informed future.

“The Five Forces Shaping World History”