A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy

Joel Mokyr. Princeton Univ., $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-691-16888-3
The Industrial Revolution sprang from cultural habits of inquisitiveness and hardheadedness in early modern Europe, according to this illuminating study from economic historian Mokyr (The Gifts of Athena). He discerns strands in Western European culture from 1500 to 1700 that predisposed it to intellectual advances that underpinned the Enlightenment and economic revolutions: the celebration of practical labor as a sacred calling, the impact of voyages of discovery on discrediting ancient worldviews, the Reformation’s weakening of the Catholic Church as a cultural hegemon, and political fragmentation that helped dissidents evade state persecution. The result, he argues, was an elite culture oriented toward economic progress through increased knowledge and new thinking. These factors have been spotlighted by other historians, but Mokyr’s discussion of them is wide-ranging and erudite, if sometimes dry and meandering. The book’s most trenchant contribution is the author’s investigation of the “competitive market for ideas” that sustained scientific “cultural entrepreneurs.” Such figures as Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton won fame and patronage within a republic of letters by making scientific and technological breakthroughs. Mokyr offers a useful corrective to excessively deterministic and materialistic treatments of economic history, emphasizing ideas—the West, he argues, had a uniquely positive view about subjugating nature to human control—and individual agency in shaping broad socioeconomic shifts. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/18/2016
Release date: 08/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4008-8291-5
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