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The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (New Approaches to Economic and Social History) 1st Edition

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521687850
ISBN-10: 0521687853
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Editorial Reviews


"Robert Allen's analysis will delight many economists, for he deals in measurable factors such as wages and prices ... This is a beautifully written book, the language as clear as a brook and with the same tumbling energy." -The Economist

"the smartest thing I have read in at least a year." -Professor J. Bradford DeLong, Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

"...stunningly good study of the Industrial Revolution... The book is well written and is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the origins of industrial change in the eighteenth century." -Richard Brown, The Historical Association

"This book's lucidity make it a must read for general reader and specialist alike. Highly recommended." -Choice

"This is the book you should use to teach the Industrial Revolution." -Journal of Economic History

Book Description

This landmark global economic history explains why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain by highlighting the ways in which Britain was different from other countries in Europe and Asia. Combining economic, social, technological and business history, Allen shows the importance of globalisation in explaining the divergence of East and West.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Approaches to Economic and Social History
  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521687853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521687850
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
This well written and well argued book is an analysis of why the Industrial Revolution began in Britain. Allen isolates 2 key factors; high labor costs and low energy costs. Compared to most other European countries, Holland excepted, and the rest of the world, Britain had relatively high wages. This provided a considerable incentive for investment in labor saving technologies. Britain was simultaneously well endowed with accessible coal and had developed a strong coal mining sector prior to the onset of the industrial revolution. Cheap energy allowed innovation in labor saving technologies that were crucial to the Industrial Revolution in steam power and iron production. In parallel and interacting was technological innovation in the first truly global industry - cotton textiles. These developments spurred the self-sustaining process of technological improvement and expansion that led to world-wide industrialization. This is essentially a theory of why Britain, among European countries, generated industrialization. Holland was another high wage economy but lacked coal deposits. Essentially all other European nations had lower wage regimes and relatively high energy costs. Allen argues that industrial innovation was seen in France but not in the key industries-technologies that led to the Industrial Revolution. Allen's arguments, buttressed by quite a bit of analysis of economic data, and even some modeling, are convincing.

Allen describes other features that were needed for industrialization. These include relatively high rates of literacy and numeracy, a scientific world view, significant agricultural innovation, and favorable political institutions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Matthew C. Roberts on December 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Finally finished `The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective' after what seems to be years of slogging thru it. Reading Amazon reviews it is funny, those who read the book are split on it, not in it's merits but in what and how it is covered. The economists are ok with all of the dry (to me) modeling and formulae that Robert Allen utilizes to bolster his arguments but who are lost with the more historical narrative and technological aspects of the book. I fall under the opposite group. Probably with all of my readings over the last couple of years has left me with a better grasp of the technologies and personalities of the industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th Century.

His narrative and thesis is that in England you had the Industrial Revolution as a result of two factors. First is that Britain was a high wage labor market at the time and the availability of coal as a fuel source. In this the author takes a slightly differing tact to other books I have read lately such as `The Most Powerful Idea in the World' and `The Industrial Revolutionaries'. These books cover the technology of the steam engine and the individuals behind the ideas as well as the spread of techniques of the revolution. Here the emphasis is more upon the economics behind the movement, as benefit's a book in a series titled `New Approaches to Economic and Social History'. It is a bit dryer and more academic tome than either of the other two volumes I mentioned, and honestly reading those has helped me approach this book more productively

The state of the British labour market during this period has been attributed to the aftereffects of the plague and other epidemics over the previous centuries.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By reader 451 on January 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
The problem with Allen's latest production is that it is neither frankly a manual nor an academic work. If it is meant as the former, it is too argumentative, and if the latter it lacks proper supporting material.

Allen's argument is that the industrial revolution happened in Britain and could only happen there, because it had high wages and low energy costs, in the eighteenth century. The book models the labour savings of certain technological innovations to show that these were only worthwhile in Britain. Thus it says the spinning jenny could only make a positive return in Britain, not France or India. But as an example of its flawed assumptions, it supposes that the workers manning the jenny would only work part-time. Recalculating Allen's IRRs based on full-time work shows the jenny was just as worthwhile elsewhere. Indeed, the question is how Britain managed to flood France with cottons after signing the free-trade treaty of 1786, if French manual costs remained lower than British mechanised costs.

Allen also runs a regression-type model to explain the industrial revolution using different factors (government, energy costs, trade, enclosure) across different countries and sub-periods. But the factors are hand picked and the correlations certainly say nothing about causes. This all sounds rather futile. The last chapters are more interesting: on invention and the role of the Enlightenment, looking at a group of seventy major and less major inventors and their links with Enlightenment figures and institutions, as well as the role of broader cultural factors, such as interest in experimentation, belief in a Newtonian / mechanical world, and numeracy. If you have to read this book, I would advise checking the introduction and then skipping to that section.
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