In This Review

More: A History of the World Economy From the Iron Age to the Information Age
More: A History of the World Economy From the Iron Age to the Information Age
By Philip Coggan
PublicAffairs, 2020, 496 pp.

Coggan, a columnist at The Economist, ably covers the history of the world economy in under 500 pages. Much of the book charts the evolution of agriculture—after all, most human beings in recent millennia have been farmers—tracing the development of new and better edible plants, as well as pivotal inventions such as the stirrup, the iron plow, and the horse collar. With the emergence of energy from fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the industrializing West greatly improved production and raised standards of living (albeit at the cost of tremendous pollution). The rest of the world eventually followed suit. As a result, the human population exploded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, because of better nutrition and health care. But Malthusian predictions of overpopulation have not been borne out: fertility rates gradually declined in many parts of the world even as living standards improved. Coggan also pays due attention to the historical importance of economies outside the West—China, India, and Islamic empires—and their many contributions to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.