Rajiv Shah has chosen a set of his favourite development books over at The Browser. Itâs obviously a selection designed to stimulate a bit of interest in USAIDâs current approaches to development, and itâs a pretty good one (though Chris Blattman has a legitimate beef with one of his comments).
One thing I like about the list is that it goes outside the standard development texts, with one selection about the development and impact of fixed nitrogen fertilizer. He also selects a work of economic history, Gregory Clarkâs A Farewell to Alms. Iâm glad to see some economic history here, but I probably would have chosen some different ones. Here are some suggestions:
The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomeranz, which looks in detail at the Industrial Revolution, and why it didnât occur in Japan or China. I canât stress enough how important it is that we understand why massive economic transformations occur, because every country that goes from poor to rich goes through one. Why did China not have its own in the 19th Century? Pomeranz looks at some of the reasons.
Of course, one of the seminal papers about the Industrial Revolution was Jan de Vriesâ The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution, which makes great play of the importance of increased output and consumption powered by effort and extended working hours â these provided a kick that supported deeper processes pushing an Industrial Revolution. Itâs been criticised since its publication, but it injected a layer of complexity into the analysis of the industrial revolution that was missing. Its ideas contribute to Chris Bayly’s thinking in The Birth of the Modern World, probably the most impressive work of history I’ve come across.
Another cracking book, again flawed, is David Landesâ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, again explicitly looking at the role of cultural norms in generating industrial transformation. I donât agree with this 100% or even close to that, but itâs a thought provoking and excellently written work.
Finally, Iâm going to cheat a little with my last two. The first is one I havenât actually read yet: The Origins of Capitalism by Ellen Wood, subtitled A Longer View. This looks absolutely fascinating, bringing together history, economics, culture, philosophy and ideology into a wide-ranging analysis of modernity and capitalism in Europe. I canât wait to read it.
The last book I would select as an economic history is actually a work of fiction (harking back to a previous post when I suggested five non-standard sources of learning on development). I read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell on the recommendation of my brother-in-law and I couldnât agree more with his high estimation of it. Written in 1855, at a time when industrial capitalism was just taking root in England, it offers remarkably thoughtful critiques of the cultural and economic impacts of industrialization and the ways in which capital and labour interact and would continue to interact under this system. Itâs astonishing to think it wasnât written with a century of hindsight. It recognizes the transition to capitalism for what it is: messy, violent, hugely beneficial and all-encompassing: no one can opt out.
Any other favourite development books out there? Always grateful for new suggestions, especially those that are well written as well as intelligent.