The Industrial Revolution and the critical factors that made it possible in Europe and Great Britain in particular earlier than in the rest of the world have interested scholars for many decades. Kenneth Pomeranz’s book The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy is a valuable source of information about the economy of European and Asian countries in the centuries preceding the Industrial Revolution and afterwards. The author’s main idea is that many parts of the world were similar to Europe according to most economic indicators during the eighteenth century, which means that the Industrial Revolution was more of a lucky occurrence rather than a logical outcome of significant growth and development in Europe that was unprecedented in the world at that time. This paper will review Pomeranz’s work and his main arguments, particularly his thesis statement, which has been summarized by Perdue (2000), a critical reviewer, as “Lucky England, normal China”.
Having read and critically reviewed Introduction and Part 1 of the book under analysis, it becomes obvious that Perdue’s conclusion about the work is correct. It is a “brilliant analysis” that “fundamentally reorients discussion of this hoary question by placing it in a comparative global framework” (Perdue, 2000). Pomeranz does not discuss the raised issue from the perspective of Eurocentrism as most social scholars tend to do. He considers that the economic growth of Europe mainly occurred due to the processes that were happening beyond its borders, for instance, in Asia, as well as due to the colonial exploitation of the New World (Pomeranz, 2000). His method of comparative analysis provides a comprehensive picture of the world, with Europe being in the center of the analysis. Besides, the author claims that some other parts of the world were developed almost like Europe in terms of economic indicators (Pomeranz, 2000). For instance, he compares the mining industries of England and China, and focuses on the mines in the Yangzi Delta region of China in particular (Pomeranz, 2000). According to this comparative analysis, the mines in both regions were technologically developed, but the miners faced different conditions and hazards because of the locations and a threat of spontaneous combustion in the Chinese mines (Pomeranz, 2000). Therefore, the English miners were luckier than their Chinese counterparts due to geographical conditions and not development.
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In conclusion, the author of the book employs a great deal of credible evidence to prove his suggestions and hypotheses, which makes the information provided quite valuable. The book is not an easy reading; it targets primarily specialists with a vast background knowledge on the issue. The book may assist to better understand the modern world economy and how it developed in the past. Moreover, the choice of research methods contributes significantly to the study. Comparative analysis proves to be quite effective. Although Pomeranz’s analysis does not cover the issue completely, it is an essential part of the discussion and a must-read book for anyone interested in world history, world economy, economic history, European history, or Asian history.
Questions and Answers
1. How does the book differ in terms of quality from other studies focusing on the Industrial Revolution, its preconditions, and other issues raised by the author?
The book does not take the Eurocentric approach; it uses comparative analysis to show that Western Europe was similar to some other parts of the world in terms of economic development, for instance, China. Thus, it means that there should have been some other factors that enabled it to undergo the Industrial Revolution earlier than other countries.
2. Why is it important to consider the exploitation of non-Europeans when discussing the economic growth of Europe in the eighteenth century?
The exploitation of non-Europeans is important to consider as it was among the key factors that ensured a rapid economic development of Western Europe during the period under analysis.
3. Why has the author chosen the method of two-way comparisons for his study?
This method provides a comprehensive picture of the issue under investigation and allows to view it from the global perspective. Besides, it allows linking issues that may seem to be different and separate at the first glance.
4. Was Europe really uniquely capable of generating an industrial transformation? Why or why not?
Based on most economic indicators, Europe was not uniquely capable of generating an industrial transformation, which is evident from the analysis of China and some other developed parts of the world at that time. Thus, it was lucky to a certain extent, but there were also some key factors that enabled the industrial transformation there earlier than in other parts of the world.
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5. When discussing the Industrial Revolution and economic growth of Europe in the eighteenth century, some scholars often refer to the British experience as exemplary of the entire European experience, but is it really a correct approach to investigating the issue and why?
It is not a correct approach; Britain occupied a quite unique position in Europe at that time due to its history, social and economic background, and colonization. Therefore, it is not accurate to refer to the British experience as exemplary of the entire European experience at the times of the Industrial Revolution.