Why did capitalism and colonialism arise in Europe and not elsewhere? Why were parliamentarian and democratic forms of government founded there? What factors led to Europe's unique position in shaping the world? This book tackles these classic questions with illuminating results, tracing the roots of Europe's singularity to the medieval era, and specifically to developments in agriculture. While most historians have located the beginning of Europe's special path in the rise of state power in the modern era, this book establishes its origins in rye and oats. These new crops, it contends, played a decisive role in remaking the European family, spurring the rise of individualism and softening the constraints of patriarchy. The author reaches these conclusions by comparing Europe with other cultures, especially China and the Islamic world, while surveying the most important characteristics of European society as they took shape from the decline of the Roman empire to the invention of the printing press.