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Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  648 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Why are some countries rich and others poor? In 1500, global income differences were small, but disparities have grown dramatically since Columbus reached America. In this Very Short Introduction, Robert C. Allen shows how the interplay of geography, globalization, technological change, and economic policy has determined the wealth and poverty of nations. Allen shows how ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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Riku Sayuj
I had been asked to read this in parallel with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Unfortunately, I have gotten around it more than a year late. But I kept the GGS open beside me as I traced the economic explanations for the trajectories of the various continents/regions - and it is true this book is a good companion volume for the enormously popular GGS. It can prove to be a useful aid to go beyond some of the simplistic assumptions and still arrive at some of ...more
Warwick
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics, history
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes…Everybody knows.

—Leonard Cohen

Economics is a frustrating subject, managing to be both essential and eye-wateringly dull. This primer does a decent job of distilling its subject into one basic question –why the world is so unequal –and of holding your attention long enough to sketch the outlines of an answer.

Normally with such things there is a lot of hemming and hawing, bet-hedging, and phrases like ‘
...more
Jonathan Peto
Nov 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This "very short introduction" was fine. One point it hammered home was that there is a historical connection between high wages and growth. That came up repeatedly. Another interesting idea for me was that without the Industrial Revolution, without growth, without, I guess, consumerism, a lot of us would work hard just to subsist. The book gave me a good impression of how various factors interact and why some nations have been more successful than others. Folks, education is much more important ...more
Dorotea
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Allen’s writing is clear and the material is fascinating. The central topic is the big divergence, the situation that it emerged from, its causes, the situation after (the ‘big push’) .

One distinctive element of the mercantilist era it’s that it witnessed an early modern globalisation because of the discovery of the New World and new sea routes to East Indies and Americas. This lead to the rise of north-western Europe (Britain, Netherlands, France) and the contemporary relative decline of the
...more
Kyle
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book. At least, if you like reading about how countries industrialized, and the theories on how to effectively do so. Allen does a good job of explaining a rather convincing theory that high wages drove investments in high-capital labor saving devices/methods, which forms a positive feedback cycle, as the high-capital devices allow wages to increase, and so higher-capital devices can be introduced economically.

He also gives good accounts of other theories of how economic
...more
xhxhx
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
It could have been so much better.

A non-Marxist center-left account. No, that's not quite right. A Listian, Leninist and Preobrazhenskyan history of the world. A history of primitive accumulation and extractive growth.

A critically incomplete account. Provides the outputs of growth, trade, and labor market models, but does not articulate their premises. Offers a dubious account of capital and technology transfer. Offers the conventional (deprecated) account of underdevelopment in the periphery.
...more
Vivek Agarwal
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The perspectives in this book are not unlike the other history books I have previously read

The main difference is that this is as the title says a lot more concise and to the point

The chapter on Africa is vey interesting and shows how and why Africa has lost out on the development which the other emerging countries were able to build upon

The author is very careful in linking many variables very well through the book

Which includes the education, ago based economy, how and why the Industrial
...more
Luke
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beginning chapters were decent, middle chapters on the Americas and Africa were excellent, last chapters were lacking. The chapter on the Americas was especially illuminating. Allen seems to take a "one size fits all" approach, which I don't think is a good way of seeing the history of economic "development," but this book does function as an excellent introduction to the subject.
Jack
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Fantastic brief book on why some countries have a lot of shit, and why other countries have much less.
Adam
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is not so much a history of the global economy as it is a comparative study of economic development after the Industrial Revolution. Its premise is that at around 1800, most nations had more or less the same size economy relative to their population – i.e., they were all poor despite the existence of some small elite. But from that point, the richest nations experienced a spiral of growing population, GDP, education, and industrial output, while the poorest nations continued to grow ...more
John-Paul
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I felt quite ignorant about this topic and now that I've read this little book I feel slightly less ignorant. Allen writes quite well -- not beautifully, but efficiently -- so the reader not only gets a lot of facts but also a way of thinking about the central question of the book: Why are some countries rich and other countries poor?

His answers are reasonable and persuasive if not definitive, and squarely in the California School of history: it's mostly about access to resources and getting
...more
DonkeyPopsicle
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Industrial policy works, except for all those times when it didn't.

Good for the basics of economic history (the great divergence, the industrial revolution, etc.). Topical rather than thematic, making it better than the average VSI. Like lots of economic history, too often caught up in GDP rather than the spectrum of standard of living at a current time period (even quartiles would be nice). Still, a very good starting point.
Pavlo Illiashenko
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Good overview, but may be a bit biased towards authors own work: sometimes you can ran into an unjustified (not very convincing) underestimation of the role of institutions. This book is useful because of generalizations and the big picture view of a very long period of economic development. If you a novice in this topic it will certainty destroy some of yours misconceptions. So, if you are ideologically biased reader, be careful, you can hurt your filings.
Daniel Wright
A fairly solid introduction. It certainly taught me a lot, especially about Japan, among other things. If you want to gain a really proper understanding of why the world is like it is (economically), you will need to dig into something much thicker, but this little volume is a reasonable overview with which to start.
Gevorg Yeghikyan
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent clear introduction to the principles and logic behind the economic policies nations have been carrying out throughout centuries, and which underlie the one question every person has asked themselves: why and how are some countries rich and others poor? Much recommended!
AnnaG
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good overview of economic history. The narrative elements explaining statistically what happened when are thorough and interesting, some of the analysis seems a little superficial e.g. the authors implies in the Africa chapter that with tariffs, banks and schools any part of the world could develop and Africa was held back by colonial policies that prevented it from enacting these measures; however a chapter later he shows that Latin America did enact those policies and it still didn't work; ...more
Angie Boyter
May 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Some topics are probably better candidates for a Very Short Introduction format than others. Whether it was the topic or the author I an not sure, but this one did not work for me.
The book is a big data dump full of lists of historical events and tables of data punctuated by facile general statements that are not adequately explained or supported.
I only lasted 2 chapters and threw in the towel when I encountered this discrepancy between the text and the accompanying table. The author says
...more
Pete
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction (2011) by Robert C Allen is an excellent overview of the world's economy. Allen is a professor of economic history and clearly knows his subject in depth. The book is well written and provides an excellent overview of global economics.

The chapters are The Great Divergence, The Rise of the West, The Industrial Revolution, The Ascent of the Rich, The Great Empires, The Americas, Africa, The Standard Model and Late Industrialisation and big Push
...more
Wing
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very concise and informative booklet. So-called prosperity stems from R&D, which is encouraged by a high wage to capital ratio, and a "standard development model" (i.e. integrated internal market, protective tariffs, universal education, and reliable domestic investment banking). An early start, relative to other competing nations, helps because, amongst other factors, minimum efficient scales enlarge with time. Geography and history matter because these dictate the initial ...more
Tianhang Hu
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Finished in a day since it's not that long. Would give it a 3.5/5. The economic history is coherent and tried to be comprehensive in analyzing certain important economic history issues. The author sought root causes and explanations for current economic situations of different countries and areas and he introuced and proposed a few theories and arguments. Very easy to read and has good academic value. It does take a certain level of economics knowledge to know everything he's talking about in ...more
Matthew Hastings
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Taking leave from the depths of Guy Arnold’s Africa: A Modern History, having reached the start of the 1980s, the light touch of Robert Allen’s introduction to global economic history was refreshing and accessible.

As with many other of Oxford’s Very Short Introductions, this is a great starting point to learning why things are how are, from an broad economic point of view.

At points, the generality of the arguments is infuriating, but it is a VERY short introduction, so I’ll have to search for
...more
vikram chandran
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's well written, very concise, and pulls its central theory together well. It illustrates how much the invisible hand of economics drives decision making as well as the growth trajectory for different countries. With respect to India - the book illustrates the size of the missed opportunity for the world's largest country to grow and prosper. A thought-provoking read...
Ryan
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Delivers on the title's promise. Very dense with interesting info. I'm not ready to evaluate most of its arguments, but from what I can tell it's a fair and concise summary. Really whets your appetite for economic history
Michael Bee
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great starter book on economic theory

I start a book listing / looking at the bibliography. The more foreign, cryptic/puzzling the better. This passed the test! I don't think you will come out the other side of this read quite the same as you were before reading!!
Leia / Felix
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it
economics huh
Gabriel
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I wanted to highlight every paragraph. So much information packed in so little.
Lucas De Lellis
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english, university
A bit eurocentric, but okay.
Samaha
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Jerry Ward
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: civilization
The general question Professor Allen addresses is why some countries are rich and others poor. He notes that around 1500 CE there was no marked difference among most economies, and divergence only began when long distance commerce was enabled by the advent of full rigged sailing ships. He identifies this as the birth of globalization. The gains from this long distance trade were not enjoyed uniformly, thus beginning the “great divergence”.

Both England and the Netherlands profited by this
...more
Keith
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ipe, economics, history
Pretty succinct and compact global economic history, although reading the short book left me with a lot of questions whose answers I will have to seek out on my own. It is well organized and well written for such a weighty topic, and the author does a great job at outlining the various theories about how and why some areas developed more quickly than others.
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“The Western countries have experienced a development trajectory in which higher wages led to the invention of labour-saving technology, whose use drove up labour productivity and wages with it.” 0 likes
“These developments were not due to a conspiracy among the rich nor simply to colonialism (although it played a role). They were the result of one of the fundamental principles of economics – comparative advantage.” 0 likes
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