25 January 2014

The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention by William Rosen [2012]

A great book which looks to uncover the reasons why the UK was the crucible of the Industrial Revolution and why it took place when it did.  I picked it up because I saw it recommended by Bill Gates in a blog as one of his books of the year.  I'm really glad I did because this book made me feel really smart. 

One fascinating reason offered by the author is that England had a robust system of intellectual property law protections together with a sufficiently large population to make commercial exploitation of these rights worthwhile (intellectual property being – to all intents and purposes – unenforceable across boundaries at the time).  By contrast, the Netherlands had a similarly well-developed intellectual property framework but a much smaller population and as a result, the incentive to develop innovative products was not as great.

Another driver appears to be the seven year trade apprenticeship system.  This allowed numerous otherwise uneducated inventors (Abraham Darby and John Wilkinson, amongst others) to develop working numeracy and practical engineering skills which provided them with the platform for working on much more complex problems.  

The first book I read this year - a brilliant start.

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