Greg Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms”

Lynne Kiesling

Anything Greg Clark writes is worth reading, even if you don’t agree with his hypotheses or his conclusions. His new book, A Farewell to Alms, explores industrialization in detail and offers some novel hypotheses for why industrialization happened when, where and how it did. I have not yet read it, but I certainly will. Nicholas Wade’s book review in Tuesday’s New York Times indicates two things that I think make this work original: new data and source material, and an original hypothesis that the cultural values consistent with growth and dynamic capitalism are genetically transmitted.

I reserve judgment on the latter until I read the book; I wonder how you can falsify such a hypothesis without a longitudinal DNA database … but Greg’s career-long focus on unearthing data and improving the source foundation upon which economic history rests is enormously valuable. See also Ron Bailey’s recent post on the book and its hypothesis, (in which he makes the always-popular-at-KP recommendation to read Joel Mokyr’s Gifts of Athena for a knowledge-transmission-based hypothesis), and Tyler Cowen’s NYT Economic Scene column ($$) on the book, from November 2006.