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Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  803 ratings  ·  108 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 t ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2011)
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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
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, economics
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 lik
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
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 Me
Sina Mousavi
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most remarkable exercises in concision that I have ever encountered, and the style worked rather well for me. I won't try to provide a summary of a text which is itself of an impressively dense summary of the economic history of the last 500 years. I will thus only mention the tidbits that I found interesting.

In the beginning, the main theme is the cause(s) of the Great Divergence: Why did the Industrial Revolution happen in Britain, and not somewhere else? The answer, shortly
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 histor
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. D
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 Re
Ismoil Sadullozoda
This very short introduction is a good start to economics for students of non-economic fields. It introduces many economic terms, concepts, and theories with lots of quantitative data. It also gives many economic measurements that can be applied individually to analyze the social and economic state of different societies.

I recommend reading this book with "Why Nations Fail" by J. Robinson and D. Acemoglu. Many concepts and processes that are introduced in this short introduction can be found in
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. ...more
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.
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Supremely succinct overview of modern economic history. Allen divides the last 500 years into three periods; the mercantilist era, the catch-up and the big push.

Leads with the Great Divergence; the period of mercantilism and industrialization, and the discovery of the New World. Large regions of the world are washed into brief overviews, and slavery + colonialism are mostly glossed over. Although, I suppose that is to be expected of a remarkably short and Anglocentric book.

The Industrial Revolut
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 sl ...more
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 the
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.
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.
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!
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Why are some countries rich, and some poor?" That's the question on the inside of the jacket, and it's the reason I read this book. Just going by the book's title I thought, what a snoozer. What is this, a book full of line graphs and historical price indexes? And yes, it definitely has those. But you can easily skip past all the math and the figures to follow Robert C. Allen's analysis as he tries to answer that basic question: why are some countries rich, and some poor. I'm not an economist a ...more
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; b ...more
Abhishek Kona
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am glad to have stumbled on the "A Very Short introduction" series. This book was dense information packed, but still got the job done of giving me an introduction to the topic, along with good recommendations on books to followup on.

. The California school of economists believe that China and parts of India had higher wages and quality of life before the 18th century and something caused a great divergence. This was the industrial revolution, and why did it start in Britain?

Primarily because
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 lite
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 I
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 configurati ...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 th ...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 ot
Oct 14, 2020 added it
for those interested in economic history, this provides a brief and accessible overview of why each region of the world has experienced the level of economic growth that it has.
the book particularly likes looking at the ratio of [wages : cost of capital and energy] as a driver for the adoption labor-saving technology. no doubt this is informed by Allen's own academic research (cf. "The Industrial Revolution in Minature" (2009))
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... ...more
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book is about one of the main topics of Economic History, "Why some nations are rich and the others are poor?", from a historical perspective. It has some compelling arguments, although it also has some flaws. It was good to read anyway since it had some different arguments from the other scholars. ...more
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!!
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28 likes · 5 comments
“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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