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The Industrial Revolution: Milestones in Business History

Author(s):Horn, Jeff
Reviewer(s):Burnette, Joyce

Published by EH.NET (January 2008)

Jeff Horn, The Industrial Revolution: Milestones in Business History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007. xxii + 167 pp. $50 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-313-33853-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Joyce Burnette, Department of Economics, Wabash College.

Though not printed on glossy paper, The Industrial Revolution by Jeff Horn (Manhattan College) is clearly a textbook, complete with maps, a timeline, and “boxes” providing additional details on important persons. Those familiar with the industrial revolution will not find anything new, but the book does provide a convenient summary of the period, and would serve as a useful reference for someone who is not yet sufficiently familiar with the field. However, the scarcity of specific footnotes would frustrate the graduate student. The intended audience for the book seems to be lower-level undergraduates. The book does not assume any knowledge of economic theory, and does not assume much general knowledge. (For example, an early footnote explains the difference between Britain and England.) Since its main purpose seems to be as an undergraduate textbook, this review will focus on describing how this book compares to other potential textbooks, such as those by Joel Mokyr and Pat Hudson.

One of the ways that this book differs from other potential textbooks of the industrial revolution is in its historical, rather than economic, focus. Horn is a historian, and does not attempt to introduce economic theory into the discussion. He occasionally uses terms in a way that an economist would not, as when he calls trade a “weapon” (p. 120), or when he makes a distinction between technique and technology. Horn discusses such changes as enclosure, new crop rotations, and animal breeding, but notes that the agricultural revolution “occurred in technique, not in technology” (p. 11). While Horn does not use economic theory, he does emphasize the history of economic thought more than most texts, and includes quotes from contemporary economic thinkers such as List, Owen, and Quesnay, as well as quotes from inventor-entrepreneurs such as Blanc and Wedgwood.

While the first five chapters focus on Britain, the next two chapters focus on other parts of the world. Chapter 6 discusses the industrial revolutions in continental Europe and the United States. France and the U.S. receive the most attention, and Belgium and Germany feature less prominently. Chapter 7 examines the relationship between industrializing and non-industrializing countries, and suggests that the industrial revolution was both a cause and effect of colonialism. Colonies helped Europe industrialize by providing markets, and the exploitation of colonial labor made Europe wealthy. The industrial revolution, in turn, provided the military and transportation technology that helped Europe maintain and expand its dominance.

As a textbook, this book does not have an explicit thesis. It does, however, make claims about the industrial revolution. Horn emphasizes the actions of the British government that favored employers over employees. In a section on “State Support for Entrepreneurs” he suggests that “[l]abor was also controlled more thoroughly than in the past,” noting the support of the British parliament for enclosures and the Poor Laws, and the prohibition of worker combinations (p. 28). Horn’s claim that “the state had to take an ever-more active role in fostering economic development” (p. 33) is at odds with Polanyi’s claim that the early nineteenth century saw the ascendancy of the free market system. Horn, however, suggests that allegiance to the free market was professed but not acted upon; he notes that “the governments of Europe were poised to take an ever greater economic role no matter what lip service they paid to the concept of ‘laissez-faire, laissez-passer'” (p. 144).

In contrast to Mokyr, who suggests that Britain’s “[e]mpire and foreign policy seem to have conveyed at best a slight advantage” (The British Industrial Revolution, Westview Press, 1993, p. 75), Horn emphasizes the benefits that Europe got from its colonies. He states very bluntly that “Britain bled India dry” (p. 126). He cites the work of Joseph Inikori and Kenneth Pomeranz to demonstrate how Europe benefited from colonialism. Horn does not see the industrial revolution as a beneficial event: “Consumer capitalism was based on exploitation” (p. 143). While he describes the causes and effects of the industrial revolution, he does not seem to approve of it.

Joyce Burnette is Daniel F. Evans Associate Professor of Economics at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Her book, Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2008.

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century