A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr - review by Alan Ryan

Alan Ryan

Knowledge is Power

A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy


Princeton University Press 403pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

One of the great mysteries of history is what has sometimes been called the ‘Great Divergence’ and sometimes the ‘Great Enrichment’: the economic takeoff that saw Europe, and subsequently much of the rest of the world, become vastly richer than before. Joel Mokyr opens this deeply engrossing book by saying,

The world today is richer than it has ever been. We know a great deal about the economic transformations that made it this way thanks to a vast literature examining every possible aspect of modern economic growth taking place since ca. 1800. We know what happened, and we know more or less how and where it happened. What remains very much a mystery is why.

This is a question to which Marx, Max Weber and a host of later economists offered very different answers.

A Culture of Growth consists of some four hundred densely packed pages, but basic claims can be extracted without too much injustice. Mokyr’s claim is that the answer to his question of why economic growth took off in around 1800 is to be found in the existence of

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