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July 2022

European Economic History: Volume 1

European Economic History (Volume One) is the first of two volumes which cover the rise of the West as an economic power. The first volume runs from the Ancient World to the Middle Ages and extends until the early colonial era describing the most important economic changes of this long period. From the early medieval period there was an economic system based around the feudal system with limited use of coinage and less extensive trade than the later middle ages. Later, there was a medieval economic renaissance that came before the early modern period and the Age of Discoveries. In this period, trade and manufacturing flourished whilst cities rose to prominence with organized guilds of tradesmen. The cities became wealthy and powerful whilst at the same time the countryside was impacted by the social change associated with the end of feudalism which now meant that the labour market became more open. The Age of Discovery and exploration that followed the Middle Ages changed the economic landscape of the western world profoundly. The Spanish and Portuguese divided up the world, conquered and settled; starting plantations in Latin America and sending unprecedented amounts of gold and silver back to Europe. The Dutch colonised the Far East, built a formidable army and started to trade with the whole world. Later, countries such as Britain and France got involved in colonising the New World and they soon overtook the Portuguese and the Spaniards economically. At this time, the endless possibilities offered by the New World led to the widespread use of shares, whilst paper money and banks began to emerge creating the first financial centers; such as, Amsterdam and London. The book does not just present history from the point of view of the economy, but also explores interesting theories such as the link between Protestantism and eventual economic success. It is argued that Catholic institutions, with their specific world view, adversely affected economies, particularly, in Southern Europe and France until the revolution. Moreover, the book explains important economic concepts from the history of the western world such as mercantilism. Overall, the book is an excellent introduction to western economic history and does not require extensive knowledge of economics to read. It would be incorrect to say the book does not show its age (the third edition I read is from 1968), since modern historians have even posed questions about whether there is such an entity as the western world. All the same the book remains a very interesting introduction to economic history in general.

The copy of the book is from my school library

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