A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr

Spread the love
4.71 (53 votes)

Joel Mokyr (Leiden, 1946) is a Netherlands-born American-Israeli economic historian. His book, Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, was released in 2016. Learn more about the author through a short biography, and discover his book, its ratings, as well as reviews on it.

Joel Mokyr is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at the University of Tel Aviv. He also serves as editor in chief of a book series published by Princeton University Press, The Princeton University Press Economic History of the Western World. He is a member of a number of institutions in Europe, among them the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001.

Born to Dutch Jews who survived the Holocaust, Joel lost his father when he was only one year old and was raised by his mother in Haifa, Israel. In 1974, after completing a PhD at Yale University, he began working at Northwestern University.

He has been editor of the Journal of Economic History and President of the Economic History Association and has served as the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. He was also chair of the Economics Department and President of the Economic History Association.

His book of economic history, Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy (2016), was Finalist for the 2017 Hayek Prize, The Manhattan Institute. It got the Honorable Mention for the 2017 PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American Publishers, and was named One of MIT Technology Review’s Best Books of 2016.


During the late eighteenth century, innovations in Europe triggered the Industrial Revolution and the sustained economic progress that spread across the globe. While much has been made of the details of the Industrial Revolution, what remains a mystery is why it took place at all. Why did this revolution begin in the West and not elsewhere, and why did it continue, leading to today’s unprecedented prosperity? In this groundbreaking book, celebrated economic historian Joel Mokyr argues that a culture of growth specific to early modern Europe and the European Enlightenment laid the foundations for the scientific advances and pioneering inventions that would instigate explosive technological and economic development. Bringing together economics, the history of science and technology, and models of cultural evolution, Mokyr demonstrates that culture—the beliefs, values, and preferences in society that are capable of changing behavior—was a deciding factor in societal transformations.

Mokyr looks at the period 1500–1700 to show that a politically fragmented Europe fostered a competitive “market for ideas” and a willingness to investigate the secrets of nature. At the same time, a transnational community of brilliant thinkers known as the “Republic of Letters” freely circulated and distributed ideas and writings. This political fragmentation and the supportive intellectual environment explain how the Industrial Revolution happened in Europe but not China, despite similar levels of technology and intellectual activity. In Europe, heterodox and creative thinkers could find sanctuary in other countries and spread their thinking across borders. In contrast, China’s version of the Enlightenment remained controlled by the ruling elite.

Combining ideas from economics and cultural evolution, A Culture of Growth provides startling reasons for why the foundations of our modern economy were laid in the mere two centuries between Columbus and Newton.





One comment

  1. Joel Mokyr’s essay helps us understand the whys and wherefores of the modern economy, its roots. It is an insightful quest into economic history. He has a number of sound arguments. It’s a very interesting book to think about.

Leave a Reply