Inspired by Vincent Geloso, here is a list of the 25 books in economic history published since 2000 which I have found most stimulating or provocative. Not the best, nor the most ‘correct’, nor the most balanced, but those things which influenced, stimulated, or provoked my own personal thinking via pseudoerasmus. The books with a description from Amazon below.
Economic History Books
Economic History Books – Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective
Why did the industrial revolution take place in eighteenth-century Britain and not elsewhere in Europe or Asia? In this convincing new account Robert Allen argues that the British industrial revolution was a successful response to the global economy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He shows that in Britain wages were high and capital and energy cheap in comparison to other countries in Europe and Asia. As a result, the breakthrough technologies of the industrial revolution – the steam engine, the cotton mill, and the substitution of coal for wood in metal production – were uniquely profitable to invent and use in Britain. The high wage economy of pre-industrial Britain also fostered industrial development since more people could afford schooling and apprenticeships. It was only when British engineers made these new technologies more cost-effective during the nineteenth century that the industrial revolution would spread around the world.
Economic History Books – Clark, A Farewell to Alms
Why are some parts of the world so rich and others so poor? Why did the Industrial Revolution–and the unprecedented economic growth that came with it–occur in eighteenth-century England, and not at some other time, or in some other place? Why didn’t industrialization make the whole world rich–and why did it make large parts of the world even poorer? In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark tackles these profound questions and suggests a new and provocative way in which culture–not exploitation, geography, or resources–explains the wealth, and the poverty, of nations.
Countering the prevailing theory that the Industrial Revolution was sparked by the sudden development of stable political, legal, and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe, Clark shows that such institutions existed long before industrialization. He argues instead that these institutions gradually led to deep cultural changes by encouraging people to abandon hunter-gatherer instincts-violence, impatience, and economy of effort-and adopt economic habits-hard work, rationality, and education.
The problem, Clark says, is that only societies that have long histories of settlement and security seem to develop the cultural characteristics and effective workforces that enable economic growth. For the many societies that have not enjoyed long periods of stability, industrialization has not been a blessing. Clark also dissects the notion, championed by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, that natural endowments such as geography account for differences in the wealth of nations.
A brilliant and sobering challenge to the idea that poor societies can be economically developed through outside intervention, A Farewell to Alms may change the way global economic history is understood.
Economic History Books – Clark, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility
How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does it influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique–tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods–renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies.
Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies have similarly low social mobility rates. Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage, The Son Also Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.
Economic History Books – De Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Culture and the Household Economy, 1650-present
In the long eighteenth century, new consumer aspirations combined with a new industrious behavior to fundamentally alter the material cultures of northwest Europe and North America. This “industrious revolution” is the context in which the economic acceleration associated with the Industrial Revolution took shape. This study explores the intellectual understanding of the new importance of consumer goods as well as the actual consumer behavior of households of all income levels. De Vries examines how the activation and evolution of consumer demand shaped the course of economic development, situating consumer behavior in the context of the household economy. He considers the changing consumption goals of households from the seventeenth century to the present and analyzes how household decisions have mediated between macro-level economic growth and actual human betterment. Ultimately, de Vries’ research reveals key strengths and weaknesses of existing consumer theory, suggesting revisions that add historical realism to economic abstractions.
Economic History Books – (added late) Engerman & Sokoloff, Economic Development in the Americas since 1500
This book brings together a number of previously published articles by Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff. Its essays deal with differences in the rates of economic growth in Latin American and mainland North America, specifically the United States and Canada. It demonstrates how relative differences in growth over time are related to differences in the institutions that developed in different economies. This variation is driven by differences in major institutions – suffrage, education, tax policy, land and immigration policy, and banking and financial organizations. These factors, in turn, are all related to differences in endowments, climate, and natural resources. Providing a comprehensive treatment of its topic, the essays have been revised to reflect new developments and research.
Economic History Books – Federico, Feeding the World: An Economic History of Agriculture, 1800-2000
In the last two centuries, agriculture has been an outstanding, if somewhat neglected, success story. Agriculture has fed an ever-growing population with an increasing variety of products at falling prices, even as it has released a growing number of workers to the rest of the economy. This book, a comprehensive history of world agriculture during this period, explains how these feats were accomplished.
Feeding the World synthesizes two hundred years of agricultural development throughout the world, providing all essential data and extensive references to the literature. It covers, systematically, all the factors that have affected agricultural performance: environment, accumulation of inputs, technical progress, institutional change, commercialization, agricultural policies, and more. The last chapter discusses the contribution of agriculture to modern economic growth. The book is global in its reach and analysis, and represents a grand synthesis of an enormous topic.
Economic History Books – Findlay & O’Rourke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium
International trade has shaped the modern world, yet until now no single book has been available for both economists and general readers that traces the history of the international economy from its earliest beginnings to the present day. Power and Plenty fills this gap, providing the first full