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The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton Economic History of the Western World)

3.63  ·  Rating Details  ·  383 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as 1750, parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product a ...more
Paperback, 392 pages
Published December 9th 2001 by Princeton University Press (first published February 22nd 2000)
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This is an awfully dense book about a very important question in world history. Why did Europe industrialize in the 18th and 19th centuries? Why did the Chinese not industrialize? How did any nation industrialize?

Pomeranz answers these questions with a very narrow and highly specific focus: he compares northwest Europe, especially England, but with a minor focus on the Netherlands, northern France, Denmark, and the German Rhine, with the most commercialized parts of Qing Dynasty China, concentra
A very fun book to read. Pomeranz takes a sledgehammer to older ideas of European exceptionalism and Weberian ideas of a nebulous capitalist spirit, instead suggesting that until about 1800, Europe and China (more precisely, England and the Yangzi delta) were on very comparable courses. They had a similar life expectancy, levels of commercial development, and comparable demand for new goods. Both were approaching a population ceiling and were, as a result, taking a very heavy toll on the local e ...more
A truly excellently researched and thorough argument against European "exceptionalism" in the Industrial Revolution and that there was something special about Europe that made it inevitable that the IR should happen. In Pomeranz's view, the only things different about Europe and China (and by that, he really means Britain and the Yangzi Delta, but for reasons of either selling more books to speak to modern controversies or a misguided attempt to address every Eurocentric argument in the world, h ...more
Pomeranz argues, in a book which has become quite influential of late ( -- Martin Jacques, for example, relies on Pomeranz' revisionist history), that the 'great divergence' of China and the West only occurs about 1800; that before that time, China was -- if anything -- ahead; and that the divergence came as a result of fortuitous and purely material circumstances… viz. as the world exhausted its supplies of energy (wood), England had ready access to large deposits of coal that lay near its indu ...more
Dan Gorman
Jan 31, 2015 Dan Gorman rated it liked it
Truly, this is one of the toughest books we graduate historians must read. Pomeranz's ideas are great, but the book's readability is not the best. If you're a casual reader, this is NOT the book for you. This book is for serious students of economics, history, and political science - and environmental science, now that I think about it.

Kenneth Pomeranz argues (quite compellingly) that we must stop privileging the West as innately superior to the East. He specifically wants to abandon ideas that
Mihai Zodian
Oct 12, 2013 Mihai Zodian rated it really liked it
"Studiile sociale și istorice sunt deseori influențate de evenimente curente; moda intelectuală se schimbă, unele aspecte ignorate în trecut sar acum în ochi. Nu-i de mirare aşadar că ascensiunea economică a ”Asiei” a fost însoțită de noi contestări direcționate împotriva explicațiilor uzuale ale dezvoltării Europei, structurilor sociale și valorii coloniilor. Inevitabil a aparut și intrebarea: de ce nu a fost inventat ”capitalismul” în China?

Kenneth Pomeranz își propune să arate, prin metoda co
Trashy Pit
Excellent super-in-depth discussion of why Europe surpassed China in the early modern period (1500-1800) even though China was technologically, economically and financially more advanced than Europe prior to that and as late as 1750s.) Overall, he underestimates the effects of colonialism and imperialism and seems to overestimate the role of coal (but I'm not an expert on this). But really good anyway. The comparisons will blow you away. (Main complaint people usually have is that it is too deta ...more
Erica Mukherjee
Jul 09, 2015 Erica Mukherjee rated it liked it
Shelves: history
In The Great Divergence, Kenneth Pomeranz sets himself up as a crusader for truth. While not precisely quixotic, Pomeranz spends most of his book titling at windmills of his own construction as he attempts to demonstrate that it was just as likely for an industrial revolution to take place in the Yangzi Valley of China as it was for it to take place in northern England. Pomeranz argues that the two regions' economies were on essentially the same path and, were it not for coal and colonies, Engla ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Adrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A modern Wealth of Nations

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
Aug 18, 2012 Eduardo rated it really liked it
An excellent book embodying a brilliant idea. If it had a more clear elocution, it would certainly rate among classics in historiography.

I hope the author will sometime read the reviews here in Goodreads and rewrite the book, building on the inherent dramatic tension between current views of the causes of the Industrial Revolution and his own views.

Maybe he could present it in 3 parts: Part I dealing with the steps in economic history for Northern Europe contrasted to Europe; Gujarat contrasted
Jan 28, 2013 Quentin rated it it was amazing
A brilliant, if somewhat overwhelming synthesis of recent scholarship on the modern world economy. Pomerantz demolishes the idea that what we think of as modern capitalism was created internally in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rather, Pomerantz, drawing on a breath-taking amount of historical and anthropological scholarship, shows how Western Europe's long historical relationships with China, South Asia, Japan, and Eastern Europe structured and conditioned the various historical circum ...more
Nov 01, 2011 Dewey rated it it was ok
In his book The Great Divergence, Kenneth Pomeranz utilizes economic, commercial, and geographical data to argue that divergence in development between Europe and Asia did not occur prior to the 1800s and to show that Europe held no significant advantage in factor endowments that would have made European dominance inevitable. Rather, Europe faced significant resource constraints that, had it not traded significantly with new world colonies and possessed access to coal supplies, would have preclu ...more
Oct 21, 2011 Elliott rated it it was ok
Even though this is supposed to be a great world history book no one except actual world historians will understand it. Pomeranz boggs down this entire book in meticulous detailing of the historical debate over the history of China, India, and Europe (primarily England). Unless you know all or most of the authors he references in his constant historical debate it will be hard for you to understand his actual points. And you will not know most of the authors he references unless you have done the ...more
Feb 02, 2015 Adam rated it it was ok
This is the type of book I can admire a lot more than I enjoyed. The author presented a good argument, and I think I learned quite a bit about Europe and China in the 17th to 19th centuries. However, it was very, very dry. All the details would be wonderful for fellow historians trying to validate or refute the author's findings, but as an amateur I could have made do with the basic outline of the argument presented in the introduction.
J.M. Hushour
Feb 23, 2013 J.M. Hushour rated it it was amazing
Europe and the West by extension gets their balls clipped in this magisterial mostly economic history comparing and integrating the opposite ends of Eurasia. Ken argues that by 1750 Europe (meaning Britain) and East Asia (China and Japan) were basically at the same stage of economic development, type, and suffering from the same ecological constraints. It was only the "accident of geography and juxtaposition" that allowed parts of western Europe to exploit the New World and surge forth. A lot of ...more
Jordan Munn
Jul 30, 2007 Jordan Munn rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: dudes and chicks
Talk about a tedious book. You have to slug through statistics and data and finally, finally, you get the point. But the point is really good too. I find this book to be somewhat of a Guns, Germs, and Steel for the economic crowd. Where GGS bases its arguments in continentally influenced development after modern man evolved and maintains the focus of sciency stuff, The Great Divergence focuses on the various similarities and differences between Europe and Asia before the discovery of the New Wor ...more
Henri Tournyol du Clos
Oct 16, 2015 Henri Tournyol du Clos rated it did not like it
Shelves: economic-history
Pretentious, circumvoluted and unsubstantiated revisionist blabber, apparently solely written for the sake of contrarian revisionism in itself. There is nothing scientific here in spite of the tepid flow of anecdotal "facts", all about as relevant to the main story (the emergence of economic growth from the Malthusian world) as deckchair moves were to the history of the Titanic. Economic history is done through models, not from selected anecdotes. Shame on an otherwise dependable publisher for h ...more
Jan 26, 2014 Letitia rated it liked it
In his efforts to illustrate the similarities between 17th-18th century China and Great Britain, Pomeranz seems to over-emphasize certain pieces of data and de-emphasize factors that are also probably worth mentioning. He still does not manage to solve the great mystery of what catalyzed the Industrial Revolution in Europe, but he does present a good argument (if not a revolutionary one) that New World development was key to the role that Europe eventually played in the global economy.
Jun 20, 2007 Jack rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: hardcore history and int'l affair buffs
Shelves: history, economics
Yea. That was really dry and dense. I kept waiting for a big conclusive payoff that would make all the really dry analysis worth it and it just never came. I'm not really well versed in any of this and yet I have a strange suspicion that his theory is kinda cock-eyed and unaccepted in the academic community to boot. There was one passage that talked about society and varying models of fashion and luxury-spending that I found kinda interesting. Aside from that, no. No, thanks.
morning Os
Yes, it's dense; lots of details, lots of numbers, and probably has many problems in interpretations of Chinese statistics. Yet, it is amazingly thought-provoking. The thick empirical part is in fact necessary to challenge the conventional view of the economic modernization of European origin. This is a bold attempt to compare two regions, and provoked many controversies and raised new issues for comparative history. Best read if you have a good skimming skill ;)
Feb 24, 2009 Liz rated it liked it
An economic world history book that seeks, as many have before, to explain away the Industrial Revolution and European exceptionalism, coming down pretty hard against any Eurocentric explanations. This is an example of a book where I like his ideas and his position, but the reading could be a bit excruciating, as it is extremely dense, detailed, and almost totally economically-oriented (economics = not my favorite field, ESPECIALLY to read about).
Jul 12, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing
great big-picture analysis that treats 'why europe?' and 'why not asia?' with equal weight. pomeranz identifies surprising similarities in western european & chinese consumption of luxury goods, development of market economies & ecological difficulties.
JohnM44 Miller
Mar 30, 2012 JohnM44 Miller rated it liked it
Scoloarly, well documented examination of extensive secondary sources concerning how and why west advanced faster than east. Conclusion is that discovery, exploitation/utilization of New World resources and markets were decisive.
lyell bark
Aug 17, 2011 lyell bark rated it it was amazing
nice book althought the chaters about ecology and soil and fertilizer gave me heart palpitations, which is why i stopped reading books about the environment. hehe. "it becomes a big problem."
Missy J
Nov 10, 2013 Missy J rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-books
I needed to read this for a university course. Interesting, however, the author tends to repeat himself and the whole defense-thing is getting tiring...
Dec 09, 2008 Jordin rated it liked it
From what I read for grad school...Somewhat dry to read cover to cover, but quite insightful.
Jan 11, 2013 Aaron rated it did not like it
This book is so dry that flipping through the pages is a fire hazard.
Apr 30, 2010 Joshua rated it really liked it
Real noodle baker. Also, much of the history is wrong.
May 01, 2012 Paula rated it liked it
Interesting. Some parts too academic and dry.
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