Book Summary: “Why Europe?” by Jack Goldstone


Why Europe?

Title: Why Europe? The Rise of the West in World History 1500-1850
Author: Jack Goldstone
Scope: 4 stars
Readability: 4 stars
My personal rating: 4 stars
See more on my book rating system.

Topic of Book

Goldstone seeks to explain why Europe became the wealthiest region in the world after 1800.

My Comments

While I disagree with the author on the main causes for Europe becoming the wealthiest region in the world after 1800, this book is still an interesting read.

Key Take-aways

  • The discovery of new peoples and physical phenomena after 1500 caused Europeans to question ancient and religious texts.
  • Europeans were unique in developing an experimental approach to the world, culminating in the Scientific Revolution by Bacon, Newton, etc.
  • Europe developed a culture of tolerance and pluralism, particularly regarding religion.
  • Europe developed a wide range of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and craftspeople that were lacking in other parts of the world.

Important Quotes from Book

In 1500, Asia was wealthier in almost every way compared to the West. The East had superior soils and wet summers, ideal for agriculture, so they did not need to devote land to fallow or pasture.

“Until 1750, changes in population, agriculture, technology and living standards were not fundamentally different in eastern Asia from those in western Europe.” (p20) the history of the material life for most of the last 1000 or 2000 years has been one of long ups and downs but with little progress” (p25)

“The first thing to realize about technological change before 1800 is that it certainly did occur… the second important thing to recognize… is that they were widely scattered over space and time and tended to be isolated, rather than generating continuous and cumulative further change.” (p27)

it is clear that many different societies, at different times, have played a leading role in technological innovation and economic growth… we can identify an important element of religion that does seem to accompany such periods. This is not the characteristic of any particular religion, but rather the existence of many religions, under conditions of pluralism and toleration. By contrast, the passing of such efflorescences are almost always marked by the return of imposition of a crushing official religions orthodoxy.” (p47-48)

“What created a different path for Europe was a combination of unusual factors:

First, a cluster of remarkable new discoveries led Europeans to question and eventually reject the authority of their ancient and religious texts to a degree not found in any other major civilization…

Second, Europeans developed an approach to science that combined experimental research and mathematical analysis of the natural world…

The third key factor was the infusion of the British Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon’s ideas regarding evidence, demonstration and the purpose of scientific investigation…

A fourth key factor was the development of an instrument-driven approach to experiment and observation.

A fifth key factor was a climate of tolerance and pluralism, rather than of conformity and state-imposed orthodoxy, and of Anglican Church support for the new science…

The sixth key factor was the easy support for the entrepreneurship and the close social relations among entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and craftspeople. (p167- 169)

The primary reasons why modern economic growth has not spread to more nations are lack of scientific training, lack of entrepreneurial opportunity, or both.

First, a dependence on selling natural resources can trap countries into low levels of development…

A second obstacle in modern economic growth is investment in the wrong kinds of education… law, administration, social sciences, arts, humanities, medicine, accounting and even theology – without also nurturing the engineering and entrepreneurial talent that would create a modern economy…

A third obstacle to modern economic growth is a lack of opportunities for people with training, ideas and talent to create new industries…

A fourth path to poverty is creating closed economies…

Finally, one more path to poverty, was for religious orthodoxy to stifle innovation or for religious education to dominate and displace scientific and technical education” (p172-174).

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