As can be seem by both the summary and and various book reviews, this is big history, encompassing the dawn of the first homonids (or ape-men as the author put it) to present day, with a chapter conjecturing about the future.
I was going to try and compare it to some of books in the same genre that I have read, but this book takes, disproves and/ or builds on their arguments - books such as Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Pommeranz's the Great Divergence, Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations - and they are all cited in his book and Morris takes pains to show how they only focus on one small piece of the picture. Indeed the feeling of reading this must have been similar for those who read Marx's Das Kapital for the first time (although the language is much more accessible and the conclusion is open ended) in that it attempts to set out underlying laws of history.
In the words of the author - "History is not one damn thing after another, it is a single grand and relentless process of adaptations to the world that always generate new problems (in the form of disease, famine, climate change, migration and state failure) that call for further adaptations. And each breakthrough came not as a result of tinkering but as a result of desperate times, calling for desperate measures." There may be set backs and hard ceilings, with free will and culture being the wildcards that may hinder social development but eventually the conditions give rise to ideas that allow progress to be made.
Indeed the motor of progress is not some economic logic, but what he calls the Morris Theorem - (expanding an idea from the great SF writer Robert Heinlein) to explain the course of history - Change is caused by lazy, greedy frightened people (who rarely know what they are doing) looking for easier more profitable and safer ways to do things. And it is geography that is the key determining factor where something develops first - Maps, not Chaps.
Now all this sounds academic and boring and in the case of the Morris theorem a little oversimplistic, but the presentation definitely is not. As professor Jared Diamond states, it is like an exciting novel (told by a cool eccentric uncle) and he uses a wide range of popular media to support his case, at one point talking about the movies Back to the Future, 300, the Scorpion King or making references to novels such as the Bonesetters Daughter and Clan of the Cave bear to bring conditions to life. Indeed the emotional similarities (and sheer sense of fun!) to playing early versions of the Sid Meier's Civilization Computer Game are uncanny.
There is a wide range of material here to satisfy a range of interests - his summaries of the fossil record, and early middle eastern and Chinese history are succinct and clear. Especially on the Chinese side, I had to read 2 books - the Golden Age of Chinese Archaelogy and the Cambridge History of Ancient China to gain the same understanding of what he summarizes in about 7-8 pages. He discourses on the role of the Axial religions, on whether democracy was important to the rule of the west, the role of free will in history, and on provocative ideas like the Qin and Roman empires expemplifing what he calls the paradox of violence: when the rivers of blood dried, their imperialism left most people, in the west and the east better off. I could go on and on and, of course, there may be many experts who take issue with his interpretations (and his predictions) but it will definitely stimulate thinking.
If I had to make a criticism of the book - it is that, like Marx, it is fundamentally materialistic in its approach, ideas are like memes that facilitate social development and culture is something that can help or hinder development but has no value in itself. The great religious ideas are glossed over as a product of or reaction to their times. It has precious little to say about the spiritual life and spiritual discoveries such as ethics, meditation or psychology. It may be these discoveries and qualities that will be required to get us through the challenges - of climate change, overpopulation, resourse shortages and potential nuclear war.
It is worthwhile comparing the book to two writings that he cites as inspiration (1) Herbert Spencer - Progress its Law and Cause and (2) Isaac Azimov's Foundation series. In each case they try to identify the forces that drive humanity but Spencer just doesn't have the data in the 19th century and the historian Hari Seldon is joke amongst professional historians as the novels seem so implausibly optimistic about what history can do. I don't know if Ian Morris has succeeded in identifying the laws of history but this book could only have been written now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, drawing together the strains from archaeology, genetics, linguistics as well as sociology and economics to create something altogether new and wonderful and accessible to that elusive thing - the educated lay reader.