Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Disparities in Economic Development since the Industrial Revolution

Book Title

Disparities in Economic Development since the Industrial Revolution. Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1981


Bairoch, Paul & Levy-Leboyer, Maurice (eds.)


The book is a revision of papers presented to the 7th economic history congress in 1978. With a wide range of contributors (there are 45), the book is a volume that addresses the inequality of economic growth as a collective theme. This is studied in relation to, and between, both regional and national disparities. This book is useful on a number of levels. First, it explores modern industrial development and the early modern period that allows us to understand, contextually, how economies grew and relate this to the industrial revolution. Second, it allows the reader to access a volume that attempts to deal with the topics on a global scope, and the sheer variety of articles are rather clear case studies on inequality in general and regional as well as national circumstances in particular.

Whilst one can appreciate the ambition of the volume, the outcome must be seen as a wide discussion with the purpose of giving a broad range of perspectives to the topic rather than arguing for anything singularly. This gives the impression that each chapter is a resource in itself, and could be utilized by scholars in that way.Each study more or less has a well designated time frame and scope of analysis, and the chapters are well structured. Of certain consideration to readers interested in studies on development and global economic history, especially in the modern, post industrial revolution period.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The book does not limit itself to an analysis post industrial revolution, but also covers topics prior to it to provide a very broad overview of global economic disparities over time. If one is to consult this volume, one can note the division between regional, global and national developments. It is structured into four parts, firstly dealing with economic disparities among nations, second, regional economic disparities, third, relation between regional and national disparities and finally, creating a methodology for the measurement of the disparities. However, within each section are a few sub-sections, which deal with different parts of the world, with specific focus on the third world and nations in Europe.

The volume is accessible and is effective as a resource material. It is able to present many case studies as a large compendium of work on the topic- this should be seen as the success of the work.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

By giving a large expanse of authors their own space to put forth their own arguments, the methodology of the work can be seen as having a united approach of dealing with the puzzle of inequalities in growth with the tools of economic history.

By focusing on the problem of growth inequality, the volume addresses issues central to the development of nations within what it calls the third world, and without. The book largely relies on quantitative evidence to make the claims, and the various chapters address different problems on their own.

The book is not purely an account of the past, but also emphasizes the role of the explanations to allow for consideration of factors which may occur in the future. Written very much with the concerns of the time in mind, the volume tries to be relevant to the time when it was written- in other words, its arguments consider the implications on the economy both past and present, with aim to understand a plausible future. Though the book may be well organized, the lack of a central thesis does indeed stand out, and readers seeking a straightforward explanation may very well be let down.

Annotated by Sandeep Singh