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Why Did Europe Conquer the World?
Philip T. Hoffman

One of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Best Books of 2015, chosen by Barry Eichengreen

Paperback | January 2017 | $19.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691175843
288 pp. | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691139708
288 pp. | 6 x 9
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Author Phillip T. Hoffman
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Between 1492 and 1914, Europeans conquered 84 percent of the globe. But why did Europe rise to the top, when for centuries the Chinese, Japanese, Ottomans, and South Asians were far more advanced? Why didn’t these powers establish global dominance? In Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, distinguished economic historian Philip Hoffman demonstrates that conventional explanations—such as geography, epidemic disease, and the Industrial Revolution—fail to provide answers. Arguing instead for the pivotal role of economic and political history, Hoffman shows that if variables had been at all different, Europe would not have achieved critical military innovations, and another power could have become master of the world.

In vivid detail, Hoffman sheds light on the two millennia of economic, political, and historical changes that set European states on a distinctive path of development, military rivalry, and war. Compared to their counterparts in China, Japan, South Asia, and the Middle East, European leaders—whether chiefs, lords, kings, emperors, or prime ministers—had radically different incentives, which drove them to make war. These incentives, which Hoffman explores using an economic model of political costs and financial resources, resulted in astonishingly rapid growth in Europe’s military sector from the Middle Ages on, and produced an insurmountable lead in gunpowder technology. The consequences determined which states established colonial empires or ran the slave trade, and even which economies were the first to industrialize.

Debunking traditional arguments, Why Did Europe Conquer the World? reveals the startling reasons behind Europe’s historic global supremacy.

Philip T. Hoffman is the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. His books include Growth in a Traditional Society (Princeton), Surviving Large Losses, and Priceless Markets.


"[B]rilliant."--Edward Rothstein, Wall Street Journal

"This book is a very interesting addition to the flourishing history of the world genre."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"History and counterfactuals blend into a fluent thesis, underpinned by diverting tables of data."--Martin Vander Weyer, Daily Telegraph

"[F]ascinating."--G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

"A confident and sure-footed book."--Robert Fulford, National Post

"Big-picture economic history at its best. Hoffman’s answer: chronic military conflict that gave European leaders incentives to harness widely known gunpowder technologies more effectively than leaders in other parts of the world. Also a good reminder of what economic history brings to today’s economic and political table."--Barry Eichengreen, one of Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2015

"A hugely ambitious book and one that no scholar analyzing transitions in global history can overlook. It is a daunting task to attempt such an endeavor, let alone succeed as Hoffman has. . . . A classic of economic history, which should be required reading by scholars everywhere."--Jari Eloranta,

"[An] impressive book."--Jan DeVries, American Historical Review

"A powerful argument that resonates strongly with recent work in international political economy (Herman Schwartz) and political science (Ned Lebow)."--Survival


More Endorsements

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Chapter 2 How the Tournament in Early Modern Europe Made Conquest Possible 19
Chapter 3 Why the Rest of Eurasia Fell Behind 67
Chapter 4 Ultimate Causes: Explaining the Difference between Western Europe and the Rest of Eurasia 104
Chapter 5 From the Gunpowder Technology to Private Expeditions 154
Chapter 6 Technological Change and Armed Peace in Nineteenth-Century Europe 179
Chapter 7 Conclusion: The Price of Conquest 205
Appendix A Model of War and Technical Change via Learning by Doing 215
Appendix B Using Prices to Measure Productivity Growth in the Military Sector 228
Appendix C Model of Political Learning 231
Appendix D Data for Tables 4.1 and 4.2 233
Appendix E Model of Armed Peace and Technical Change via Research 234
Acknowledgments 239
Bibliography 241
Index 263

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