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The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe

Author(s):Broadberry, Stephen
O’Rourke, Kevin
Reviewer(s):Diebolt, Claude

Published by EH.NET (June 2011)

Stephen Broadberry and Kevin O?Rourke, editors, The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe, Volume 1: 1700-1870 and Volume 2: 1870 to the Present.? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Volume 1: xiv + 329 pp. $40 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-521-70838-8. Volume 2: xviii + 468 pp. $40 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-521-70839-5,

Reviewed for EH.Net by Claude Diebolt, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), University of Strasbourg.

This collective volume, edited by Stephen Broadberry and Kevin O?Rourke, is a success. It is a scientific success, of course, but also a didactic performance. From an academic point of view, through its thematic organization, this book provides a major innovation. It surpasses traditional monographs in European economic history, which have too often exclusively focused on presenting national economies one by one.

The book consists of two volumes. The list of contributors is impressive. Each chapter is written by well-known experts in the selected fields and covers — as far as possible ? Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. The first volume deals with the transition to modern economic growth from 1700 to 1870 — starting with Great Britain, reaching other economies in Western Europe, and diffusing from there. Its first part focuses on cycles and major aggregates of economic growth with contributions from Joel Mokyr and Hans-Joachim Voth; George Alter and Gregory Clark; Dan Bogart, Mauricio Drelichman, Oscar Gelderblom and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal; Kevin O?Rourke, Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Guillaume Daudin; and Lee Craig and Concepci?n Garc?a-Iglesias. Part II analyzes individual sectors, with chapters by Tracy Dennison and James Simpson; Stephen Broadberry, Rainer Fremdling and Peter Solar; and Regina Grafe, Larry Neal and Richard Unger.? The final section examines living standards, with essays by Sevket Pamuk and Jan-Luiten van Zanden; Paolo Malanima; and Bishnupriya Gupta and Debin Ma.

The second volume covers European economic history since 1870, in three classic stages. First the phase of European dominance until World War I with chapters written by Guillaume Daudin, Matthias Morys and Kevin O?Rourke; Albert Carreras and Camilla Josephson; Stephen Broadberry, Giovanni Federico and Alexander Klein; Marc Flandreau, Juan Flores, Clemens Jobst and David Khoudour-Casteras; and Carol Leonard and Jonas Ljungberg. The second phase, from 1914 to 1945, gathers contributions from Jari Eloranta and Mark Harrison; Albrecht Ritschl and Tobias Straumann; Joan Roses and Nikolaus Wolf; Eric Buyst and Piotr Franaszk; and Robert Milward and Joerg Baten. And finally we have the phase from the end of World War II to the present time with texts from Barry Eichengreen and Andrea Boltho; Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo; Stefan Houpt, Pedro Lains and Lennart Sch?n; Stefano Battilosi, James Foreman-Peck and Gerhard Kling; and Dudley Baines, Neil Cummins and Max-Stephan Schulze. Like the first volume, volume two deals with issues of globalization versus de-globalization and also cycles, sectoral analysis, population and standards of living.

I strongly recommend this book to readers. It is first a magnificent, unequalled introduction to European economic history. Furthermore it is a plea for the development of not only comparative but also quantitative economic history. It is finally a splendid synthesis exercise, which aims at presenting a cultured audience with the lessons drawn from advanced research in the field of historical economics and/or econometric history devoted to Europe from the eighteenth century to the present day, using clear and understandable terms. Economic historians have produced numerous and varied introductions to economic analysis and historical research but synthetic works in economic history are rare. Those which are available do not meet the requirements of modern economic history which is — now probably more than ever — oriented towards economic theory. The aim of this book is to fill this gap and to produce the necessary conditions for an efficient trade which would provide for the fusion between economic history and historical economics. Thus it allows economists to access a certain historicity in their analyses. On the other hand, it raises historians? awareness of the unavoidable need to apply such theories, models and paradigms in order to explain historical causalities. If I had to compare Broadberry and O?Rourke?s book for well-informed colleagues with an academic journal, I would say that its ambition can be compared to the philosophy explicitly expressed by the Journal of Economic Perspectives: ?understanding the central economic ideas of a question, what is fundamentally at issue, why the question is particularly important, what the latest advances are, and what facets remain to be examined? (Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25 (2), Spring 2011, p. 227).

Claude Diebolt, research professor in economics (especially cliometrics) for the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Strasbourg (France), is the editor of the journal Cliometrica. He can be reached via email at

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Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII