*The Gunpowder Age*

The author is Tonio Andrade, and the subtitle is China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History.  This is an excellent book, full of history, science, and political economy, think of it as a parallel history of the evolution of guns across China and Europe, with an eye toward explaining larger state structures.  Some of the things I learned or learned in a new way were:

1. The “competing states” argument for the rise of Europe is in some ways overvalued, as it neglects some critical time periods of competition across states in Chinese history.

2. Walls and guns co-evolved, in both China and Europe.  And in earlier times, China had much bigger and stronger walls.  That may have lowered the rate of return on investing in guns.

3. By 1510 or 1520, European guns already were better than Chinese guns.  But through the following centuries, the Chinese were more aware of the need to catch up than is often realized.

4. Guns and gunpowder co-evolved, and when it comes to gunpowder some historians argue Europe had a second-mover advantage.  Yet the exact source of European superiority in this regard is murky.

5. Korea developed one of the most effective musket-based armies of the seventeenth century.

6. The British development of “cylinder powder” in the late eighteenth century was a major advance over Chinese techniques at the time, and represented a final and decisive relative advance for the West.

Recommended, due out in January.


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