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

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  527 Ratings  ·  42 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
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
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
Very important book with ideas that were groundbreaking at the time, but needlessly dense.
May 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The great divergence summed up would be as follows; there is this theory on why China was different from Europe and that is why Europe become the economic powerhouse and not china, then Kenneth Pomeranz steps in and in a dozen or so pages filled with tons of data and comparative analysis or case studies points out how much assumption and how little fact based research is in this specific theory and up we go to the next theory.

It is as if the author was sick and tired of the many stereotypical a
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is hardly news that the West has led the world economically for the past 200 years, or more. This superiority (let’s be honest—that’s what it is) academics commonly call the “Great Divergence,” a term coined by Samuel Huntington in 1996, though the study of Western economic superiority began much earlier. There are many sub-questions one can ask—e.g., what constitutes “the West”? Is it England? England and parts of the Continent? How does America fit in? When exactly did this takeoff begin? A ...more
Mihai Zodian
Jan 29, 2013 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
Dan Gorman
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Economists, Graduate Students, Sinologists
January/February 2015: 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
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
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Instead of asking the question, "why didn't the Industrial Revolution take place in China," the book focused on the historically more precise question of "why was Western Europe the only civilization that developed into industrial society," -- though it seems to be only a slight swap of perspective, the implications are deep and thought-provoking.

The subsequent analysis mainly elaborated on two arguments:
- The pre-industrial Europe and China had much more similarity than difference
- Western Euro
Oct 04, 2011 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
Aleksander Østrup
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Kenneth Pomeranz tries to show that Europe (specifically Britain) were not exceptional in its institutional and productive position at the eve of the industrial solution. He does this by looking at the relevant aspects of Asia (with a focus on China) and Europe (with a focus on Britain) and comparing the two, to show that they are not significantly different. The way that this information is presented is by including an enormous amount of numbers in the text, which makes it difficult to compare ...more
Court Hansen
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Pomeranz makes a compelling argument that it was geographic and ecological factors (British access to coal and European access to New World resources and land) that gave it a competitive advantage over parts of the world that had comparable economic potential (China, India, Japan), rather than a comparatively "free" labor market or its financial institutions. However, the book is steeped in some pretty dense economics language that may prove a barrier for historians who are not well-versed in th ...more
Sylvia Zhou
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mega  Chan
Feb 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Tries to explain why China fell behind, but the reason the book comes up with as Coal and Colonies don't explain why China had a century of humiliation even by its neighbour Japan.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
an interesting study sullied by stubborn anti-marxism
Nov 12, 2010 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
Erica Mukherjee
Jul 09, 2015 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
Jul 30, 2011 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
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Pomeranz argues persuasively that the "core" economic areas of the old world were all pretty similar, or at least more similar than different, until just before the Industrial Revolution. And that it was a particularly fortuitous set of circumstances, namely, the New World's coercive plantation slavery and easy access to coal, that led England to leap forward and diverge in the mid-19th century.

The core argument is meticulously laid out, with as much data as we can possible have, and does a grea
Nov 01, 2015 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
Dec 19, 2012 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
J.M. Hushour
Feb 23, 2013 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 21, 2007 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
Dec 14, 2014 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
Nov 24, 2010 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.
Jan 19, 2015 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.
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 16, 2009 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).
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Kenneth Pomeranz (born November 4, 1958) is University Professor of History at the University of Chicago. He received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1980 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1988, where he was a student of Jonathan Spence. He then taught at the University of California, Irvine, for more than 20 years. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in ...more
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