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by Philip T. Hoffman

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Princeton Economic History of the Western World Series
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New Edition
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6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)



Between 1492 and 1914, Europeans conquered 84 percent of the globe. But why did Europe rise to the top, when for centuries the Chinese, Japanese, Ottomans, and South Asians were far more advanced? Why didn't these powers establish global dominance? In Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, distinguished economic historian Philip Hoffman demonstrates that conventional explanations--such as geography, epidemic disease, and the Industrial Revolution--fail to provide answers. Arguing instead for the pivotal role of economic and political history, Hoffman shows that if variables had been at all different, Europe would not have achieved critical military innovations, and another power could have become master of the world.

In vivid detail, Hoffman sheds light on the two millennia of economic, political, and historical changes that set European states on a distinctive path of development and military rivalry. Compared to their counterparts in China, Japan, South Asia, and the Middle East, European leaders--whether chiefs, lords, kings, emperors, or prime ministers--had radically different incentives, which drove them to make war. These incentives, which Hoffman explores using an economic model of political costs and financial resources, resulted in astonishingly rapid growth in Europe's military sector from the Middle Ages on, and produced an insurmountable lead in gunpowder technology. The consequences determined which states established colonial empires or ran the slave trade, and even which economies were the first to industrialize.

Debunking traditional arguments, Why Did Europe Conquer the World? reveals the startling reasons behind Europe's historic global supremacy.


Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hoffman (Growth in a Traditional Society), a professor of economic history at CalTech, provides an intriguing but not fully satisfying answer to the titular question. He begins by pointing out that by 1914, 84 percent of the world was under the control of Europeans or their descendants. According to Hoffman, the Industrial Revolution alone cannot explain this phenomenon; instead, he dates it to a military revolution that swept through early modern Europe starting around 1500. Hoffman’s thesis is that a “tournament” model of constant competition between European nation states gave the region its edge. Hoffman cites four factors in particular: frequent wars; low political costs of financing wars through taxation and borrowing; heavy use of gunpowder over older military technologies; and fewer obstacles to adopting military innovations. Hoffman’s comparison to other potential competitors for world domination—China, India, Japan, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire—finds they all lacked one or more of these four factors. His analysis makes for a valuable addition to previous literature on this subject, such as historians Jared Diamond and Paul Kennedy’s emphasis on geography, environmental differences, and an individualist culture. Still, while Hoffman’s model may partially explain how Europe came to dominate much of the world, it falls short of explaining why. (July)

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