During the late eighteenth century, innovations in Europe triggered the Industrial Revolution and the sustained economic progress that spread across the globe. While much has been made of the details of the Industrial Revolution, what remains a mystery is why it took place at all. Why did this revolution begin in the West and not elsewhere, and why did it continue, leading to today's unprecedented prosperity? In this groundbreaking book, celebrated economic historian Joel Mokyr argues that a culture of growth specific to early modern Europe and the European Enlightenment laid the foundations for the scientific advances and pioneering inventions that would instigate explosive technological and economic development. Bringing together economics, the history of science and technology, and models of cultural evolution, Mokyr demonstrates that culture—the beliefs, values, and preferences in society that are capable of changing behavior—was a deciding factor in societal transformations.
Mokyr looks at the period 1500–1700 to show that a politically fragmented Europe fostered a competitive "market for ideas" and a willingness to investigate the secrets of nature. At the same time, a transnational community of brilliant thinkers known as the “Republic of Letters” freely circulated and distributed ideas and writings. This political fragmentation and the supportive intellectual environment explain how the Industrial Revolution happened in Europe but not China, despite similar levels of technology and intellectual activity. In Europe, heterodox and creative thinkers could find sanctuary in other countries and spread their thinking across borders. In contrast, China’s version of the Enlightenment remained controlled by the ruling elite.
Combining ideas from economics and cultural evolution, A Culture of Growth provides startling reasons for why the foundations of our modern economy were laid in the mere two centuries between Columbus and Newton.
Joel Mokyr is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of economics and history at Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at the University of Tel Aviv. His many books include The Enlightened Economy and The Gifts of Athena (Princeton). He is the recipient of the Heineken Prize for History and the International Balzan Prize for Economic History.
"[A] fine book. . . . One of our country's great economic historians has helped us better understand the greatest transformation in human welfare our planet has ever seen."--Richard Vedder, Wall Street Journal
"Wide-ranging and erudite. . . . Mokyr offers a useful corrective to excessively deterministic and materialistic treatments of economic history, emphasizing ideas--the West, he argues, had a uniquely positive view about subjugating nature to human control--and individual agency in shaping broad socioeconomic shifts."--Publishers Weekly
"Ultimately, without the impetus of science, economic growth would have fizzled out after 1815. A Culture of Growth is certainly making me rethink."--Brad DeLong, Nature
"A Culture of Growth is a brilliant book. You should buy it and even read it. It's long, but consistently interesting, even witty."--Deirdre McCloskey, Prospect
"In pointing to growth-boosting factors that go beyond either the state or the market, Mokyr's book is very welcome."--Victoria Bateman, Times Higher Education
"What stands out from Mokyr's approach is the highly contingent character of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. They happened because a lot of different things happened to fall into place; small deviations in the course of events could have given us an entirely different world of technological and economic power."--Diane Coyle, Financial Times
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Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Joel Mokyr: