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The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy Paperback – November 7, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0691120133 ISBN-10: 0691120137

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691120137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691120133
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003
Winner of the 2003 Don K. Price Award

"For most economists, Mr. Mokyr included, the Industrial Revolution is categorically different from everything that preceded it. . . . [He] suggests that, over time, growth will win out, if only because the power of certain ideas is greater than the resistance to them. So much the better."--Nic Schulz, Wall Street Journal

"[A] masterful addition to literatures of economic history and economic growth. The product of a lifetime of scholarly study and reflection, Mokyr's book plainly did not spring full-blown from the head of Zeus. It merits a wide readership."--William F. Shughart II, EH.Net

"The Gifts of Athena is an impressive study that clearly reveals Mokyr's mastery of a large literature on industrialization and economic growth. . . . Joel Mokyr has long concerned himself with big questions and making connections that delineate historical processes in new and interesting ways. The Gifts of Athena with its special emphasis on the centrality of the 'knowledge economy,' amply testifies to his stature as a leading historian of the Industrial Revolution."--Merritt Roe Smith, Isis

"[A] fascinating, magisterial investigation into the wellsprings of modern economic growth and improved living standards. . . . The Gifts of Athena is a big-idea history book, a complex tale that interweaves science, technology, economics, sociology, and political science. . . . This is one that will stand the test of time."--Christopher Farrell, Business Week

"Situated firmly at the intersection of several disciplines--the history of science and technology, economic history, and economics--this fascinating and stimulating book explores the relationships among the expansion of knowledge, technological change, and economic growth since the 18th century."--Choice

"Mokyr argues that knowledge is the key to understanding many of the most important developments in the past two centuries. The book is impressively wide ranging in its scope, containing a vast array of information and ideas. . . . I would hesitate to say the Mokyr has solved the problems of why the industrial revolution happened, but he would appear to have advanced the story a long way. This book is a fascinating integration of intellectual and economic history"--Roger E. Backhouse, American Historical Review

"Joel Mokyr, as one of the most important economic historians of our time, has written an instructive book about the knowledge-based origins of the rise and the future persistence of the Western World. . . . This book should be read not only by scholars, but also by politicians!"--Helmut Braun, Journal of European Economic History

From the Inside Flap

"Everyone talks about knowledge and technology, but Mokyrs brilliant book is the rare exception that talks about the what, when, why, and where of the knowledge revolution. The book skillfully navigates a vast territory from the Industrial Revolution to the World Wide Web, from the revolution in health to that in housework, from technophobia to institutions. Mokyr demolishes stereotypes and generates a steady stream of fresh facts and insights that keep you turning the pages."--William Easterly, New York University, author of The Elusive Quest for Growth

"Economists, historians, and people who care about human progress will have to pay serious attention to Joel Mokyr's account of the role of knowledge in fueling economic development. He appears to be right about the West, and the implications for developing countries and their spending on education are staggering."--Margaret C. Jacob, University of California at Los Angeles

"The benefits of knowledge for health and wealth have been axiomatic for centuries. Showing just how science, technology, and medicine actually pay off is still not simple. The Gifts of Athena bridges history and economics with unusual learning and originality. Wise owls will want this book."--Edward Tenner, author of Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

"This is a splendid book. Highly illuminating and often strikingly original, it will be valuable to economists and economic theorists as well as to historians of all sorts but also, thanks to Mokyr's lively, often-provocative writing style, to a much wider audience."--Nathan Rosenberg, Stanford University, author of Exploring the Black Box

"An excellent and much-needed book. The Gifts of Athena embraces the varied scientific breakthroughs that eventuated in both modern economic growth and rapidly rising life expectancy. Mokyr's intellectual scope is impressive, and he has done scholars a great service by creating this pathbreaking work. The need for knowledge of this type, especially among economists, is great."--Richard A. Easterlin, University of Southern California, author of Growth Triumphant

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on January 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Partly because it is too wide-ranging to settle on any sound-bite answer, this is one of the better books around to examine the question of the sources of the West's technological and economic supremacy.
In "The Gifts of Athena", Joel Mokyr sets his sights on three objectives: First, to establish that expanding knowledge has been the engine driving the world's expanding economy over the last few centuries, rather than the other way around. Second, to explore the factors that control the discovery and application of new knowledge, so as to get a better grasp on why the Industrial Revolution took place in Europe, and why England might have led the way. Finally, to speculate on what I found to be a startling question: what's to prevent the explosive expansion of technology to which we have become accustomed from falling into stagnation, as lesser periods of innovation have done throughout history?
He accomplishes the first objective handily. Apparently some economists believe that the Industrial Revolution must have been driven primarily by economic forces (new means of capitalization and rising demand) rather than by the availability of science, because of the multi-century lag from Kepler and Newton to the economic blastoff. But Mokyr argues that there was a necessary intermediate stage, the "Industrial Enlightenment", which structurally altered the relationship between "what-is" and "how-to" forms of knowledge, as well as making both forms radically more accessible to artisans, entrepeneurs, and the general public.
His explorations of the other two questions are fresh and illuminating, but a bit picaresque. There's no overarching theory here and, except for parts of the chapter on adoption of new technology by households, little quantitative rigor.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Bergman on August 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in knowledge and its role in economic growth. "The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy," is a sweeping and comprehensive account of the period from 1760 (in what Mokyr calls the "Industrial Enlightenment") through the Industrial Revolution beginning roughly in 1820 and then continuing through the end of the 19th century. The book (and related expansions by Mokyr available as separate PDFs on the Internet) should be considered as the definitive reference on this topic to date. The book contains 40 pages of references to all of the leading papers and writers on diverse technologies from mining to manufacturing to health and the household. The scope of subject coverage, granted mostly focused on western Europe and America, is truly impressive.

Mokyr deals with `useful knowledge,' as he acknowledges Simon Kuznets` phrase. Mokyr argues that the growth of recent centuries was driven by the accumulation of knowledge and the declining costs of access to it. Mokyr helps to break past logjams that have attempted to link single factors such as the growth in science or the growth in certain technologies (such as the steam engine or electricity) as the key drivers of the massive increases in economic growth that coincided with the era now known as the Industrial Revolution.

Mokyr cracks some of these prior impasses by picking up on ideas first articulated through Michael Polanyi's "tacit knowing" (among other recent philosophers interested in the nature and definition of knowledge).
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting book devoted to the importance of knowledge in the formation of modern industrial economies. Mokyr has several goals. The first and most important is to illuminate the origins of the modern industrial economy. Others are to illustrate the impact of modern economy, particularly its knowledge based elements, on modern life, to discuss barriers to the acquisition and dissemination of knew and useful knowledge, and to discuss differences in economic behavior between firms and households. The quality of the book is somewhat uneven, possibly because this book is based on prior essays and lectures that Mokyr has prepared in the last decade. While the book certainly has a strong theme, the individual chapters don't allows cohere.

The initial part of the book is devoted to the thesis that a key, perhaps the key, feature leading to the genesis of the Industrial Revolution, was the birth in Western Europe of interest in "useful knowledge." This is not science per se, or engineering per se, but an amalgam of both driven by a desire to use knowledge of the natural world in ways that manipulate the natural world to human advantage. For Mokyr, the scientific revolution of the 17th century is a necessary precursor to the Industrial Revolution but the foundation of the Industrial Revolution is the Enlightenment's dedication to science, rationalism, its insistence that human activity can improve the lot of humanity, and its insistence on public dissemination of useful knowledge through publishing and education. The quintessential example of this crucial aspect of the Enlightenment is the Great Encyclopedia, dedicated to disseminating the best practices in virtually all areas of human activity.
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The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy
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