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on 4 August 2011
The debate continues unabated, among social scientists and historians,about the reasons for the unique emergence of Industrialization and sustained economic growth in Northwest Europe at the end of the 18th C and early 19th C.
Scholars have searched for the exceptional homegrown ingredients that stimulated the European economic take off and resulted in the great divergence from the historically advanced societies of Asia.Some have emphasised the unique advantageous material and ecological circumstances, others have focused on the institutional or scientific structures and others still on the specific favourable economical factors in particular the capital accumulation , either internally generated or externally through colonial extraction.Most of these accounts are deterministic stressing the historical inevitability of the process.They also share a Eurocentric narrow vantage point.

Pomeranz a historian and sinologist,has pored over extensive recently accumulated historical data about China and Japan , to bring a refreshing approach to the problem.He proposes a regional comparison between the advanced core areas in Europe and Asia.Surprising similarities are borne out for instance between England and the Yangzi delta, well up to the mid 18th C in consumption, productivity, markets,ecology, average incomes and even life expectancy.To explain the historical breakthrough,the author turns his attention to the contingent factors particularly the fortunate location of accessible coal deposits in Western Europe.Coal a fossil fuel ,replaced the shrinking supply of fuel wood as more forests disappeared and became the fundamental driver of the British industrial growth.Pomeranz dismisses all other explanations as being non essential or inadequate e.g. European science and technology,difference in economic institutions and factor prices.
The second explanation he advances is the major facilitating role of the New World colonies in thrusting the West European economic growth. American colonies allowed Europe to move along resource intensive and labour saving paths by providing crucial relief from the ecological and population constraints building up in Europe at the time.Certainly a major advantage unavailable to the Asian economies which were facing similar difficulties and hit a cul-de-sac.
His analysis is meticulously detailed and well researched, but the main thrust of his thesis though convincing is not entirely original( The coal thesis is borrowed from Tony Wrigley) The book is loaded with details for the non expert but is still an enjoyable read.I expect it will continue to be a main reference work to students of economic history for the foreseable future.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 March 2014
The Great Divergence contains two arguments in one book: first, that at the end of the eighteenth century, parts of China and East Asia were economically as advanced as Britain and therefore as likely to enjoy an industrial revolution, and second, that what caused Europe to diverge and break through was access to land and natural resources from America. The first argument, largely descriptive, is the more interesting: it depicts a very different China and Japan from the prevailing stereotypes of backward Oriental nations. In terms of life expectancy, access to consumer goods, or infrastructure, much of eighteen-century Asia seems to have had nothing to envy Europe. This is a surprising, intriguing observation, and on its own it makes the book worth reading.

The second argument is more problematic. Few non-specialist readers probably realise how much of the industrial revolution remains unwritten, uncertain, or plain unknown. Even for Britain, the most advanced and for obvious reasons the most important country, the eighteenth-century demographics were only established based on the work of the Cambridge Group of historians a mere twenty-five years ago. Nick Craft managed to establish ballpark growth numbers for the key period that was 1770 to 1820 only recently, and these remain subject to many caveats… Pomeranz bases his analysis on secondary sources. The problem is that many of these are dated, speculative, or outright dubious. Some of his data goes as far back as Fernand Braudel. On the British agricultural revolution, his basis is the discredited Allen: Overton has showed that, contrary to what Pomeranz writes, British agricultural productivity continued to rise very sharply in the 1700-1850 period. Pomeranz seems to set much store by the ‘industrious revolution’ theory of De Vries: but it is no more than a theory, and indeed it relies on the obsolete and gravely off Phelps, Brown, & Hopkins wage series. Then Pomeranz himself tends to brush past the issue of coal. We are told most Chinese coal is in the wrong places. But was there substantial coal nevertheless in the right places, and was it surface coal? Most significantly, finally, he leaves the whole question of technology aside, or almost so. What were the relative technological levels and, even more fundamentally, scientific levels of Western Europe and China in 1750? Pomeranz’s answer is that this does not matter, due to insuperable land constraints. This seems to me to fall short substantially. The Great Divergence is worth reading, but it is to be read with a pinch of salt.
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on 13 November 2015
The Great Divergence is by no means an easy read, however, for those who are seeking answers as to why Europe paced ahead of Asia, or more specifically, China, Kenneth Pomeranz provides answers, within a mammoth work of scholarship.
The Great Divergence is clearly very well researched and sheds new light on the processing of the European Industrial Revolution, and the perceived Chinese stagnation.
Pomeranz takes many factors into account, in fact almost every conceivable factor, in analysing what made some areas suited for industrialization more than others, and many other issues such as diet, consumption patterns, or even the replacement of beer and gin with tea in the British daily diet, thus allowing British workers to do more demanding, dangerous work (one cannot underestimate the importance of the tea break).
A central part of Pomeranz's thesis is the discovery of the New World and with it sliver and extra space, coupled with the Chinese demand for sliver.
This book is by no means easy to swallow and does not provide simple answers, but for those who want a fuller picture of why the West got ahead, this is the book. An easy read it is not, but a scholarly work it is.
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on 7 August 2013
This very interesting book has a few hundred pages to much.... It takes perseverance tot read the whole book, but it is worth a try! Nevertheless a journalist should write in a more compelling way to the reader. Try for yourself.
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on 12 April 2015
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on 24 April 2013
The Kindle version of the Great Divergence comes with a base font size too small to be visible without a magnifying glass. Using the font size control on the Kindle to move the size to maximum still gives a font size too small to be comfortably read without further magnification. I have asked Amazon for my money back (I clearly will have to buy it in book form)or a technique by which I can further multiply font size and I await their answer.

The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
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on 1 October 2011
The item arrived well before the delivery date, and it was in perfect conditions. I thank the seller for the excellent work!
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