What Are the Best Books on the Economic History of Energy Technology and Development?

Michael Giberson

I know we have a few economic historians among our readers. You may be interested in Alexis Madrigal’s blog, Inventing Green, which he describes as research notes for his forthcoming book on the development of energy technology and institutions (previously mentioned here in an earlier post). Recently he wrote:

The deeper I get into the history of energy in America, the more I realize that it’s impossible to examine energy (or green tech) alone. I want to know more about technological diffusion, the systems that constrain or promote tech R&D, the financing systems that allow different types of technology companies to be founded, and (of course) how these factors have impacted the adoption of solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

After a few more comments, he gets to the point; he has assembled a “a small bibliography of economic history and technological change.”

When I say technology here, I’m including the innovations of a social variety, too. Here’s what I’ve got on my reading list for the next couple of weeks.

  • Susan Previant Lee and Peter Passell. A New Economic View of American History. 1979. The kind of quantititative economics that we’ve all come to love. You can win with data.
  • David Edgerton. The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900. 2007. “Much of what is written on the history of technology is for boys of all ages. This book is a history for grown-ups of all genders.”
  • Aidan Davison. Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability. 2001. So far, an attack on the “ecomodernist” project, under which Davison would probably file the entire realm of green technology.
  • Eric Higgs, Andrew Light, and David Strong, Eds. Technology and the Good Life? 2000. A lot of thoughts about the philosophy of technology, with a focus on the fruits of Albert Borgmann’s philosophical tree.
  • Enrico Santarelli. Finance and Technological Change: Theory and Evidence. 1995. It’s fascinating how little information I can find about how finance/banking technocrats evaluate technologies that come before them. Yet in modern green tech, they are really the keepers of the keys.
  • Johnathan Hughes. The Governmental Habit Redux: Governmental Controls from Colonial Times to the Present. 1991.
  • Joel Mokyr. Twenty-Five Centuries of Technological Change. 1990. An economic primer on technological change.
  • Daniel Boorstin. The Republic of Technology. 1978. Boorstin’s attempt to understand globalization it seems. With characterstically soaring language. (I’m not complaining.)
  • Nathan Rosenberg. Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics. 1982. Love it. Starts with a historigraphy of technical progress.
  • Paul Stoneman. The Economics of Technological Diffusion. 2002. A textbook. Lots of curves and graphs.
  • David Noble. America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism. 1977.

I’m not familiar with about half of the books, but overall it seems like a pretty good list.

What think ye? Did he miss anything essential?