*The Enlightened Economy*

The subtitle is An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850 and the author is Joel Mokyr.  This is now the most comprehensive and indeed the currently definitive history of the British Industrial Revolution.  Here is a short excerpt:

Despite the protestations of some scholars who call it "a misnomer," the idea of the Industrial Revolution will remain an essential concept in the economic history of Britain and the world.  It was, in a narrow sense, neither exclusively industrial nor much of a revolution.  But it remains in many ways the opening act of the still-developing drama of modern economic growth coupled to far-reaching change in society.

The main thesis (apart from the comprehensive coverage) is that ideas were of the central importance for the British take-off.  Here is the book's website.  Here is a blog review.  I would not describe the book as "fun" but it is clearly written and does not require the knowledge of a specialist.

There is another new book on the Industrial Revolution, namely Robert C. Allen's The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective.  It's all about how the British had high wages and cheap energy, a kind of Heckscher-Ohlin approach to why we're not eating mud cakes.  It's good enough on its own terms, but it's a) question-begging in parts, and b) startling what a small role ideas play in the basic story.  Indirectly, this book is proof that Mokyr's contribution is an important one.


Please say a little about what ideas were important.

In previous books Mokyr has tended to be talking about intellectual ideas that underlay the industrial knowledge revolution in hard technologies like chemistry and manufacturing rather than soft technologies like institutions or political ideas. Even so the broader ideological-epistemological enlightenment context was always clearly within the viewfinder. I’m looking forward to reading this one when it comes out in paperback. Thanks for the review.

Heard Robert Allen speaking about his book, which (I may be wrong) seemed to be contra-Clark. It sounded interesting but I also noticed a deliberate lack of attention to what he called "background factors" like ideas and institutions. More about prices.

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