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December 20, 2006

Differing Paths to Industrialisation: The Path Not Taken: French Industrialisation in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830 - Jeff Horn

Posted by Jeremy Black

The Path Not Taken: French Industrialisation in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830
by Jeff Horn
Pp. ix+383. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 2006
Hardback, 29.95

Clearly-written and drawing on an impressive range of sources, this is an account of importance not only for French history, but also for analyses of economic development. In particular, rather than taking Britain as the paradigm of industrialisation, Horn suggests that France used a different system for industrial transformation, and deliberately so in order to deal with the social and other contexts and consequences of industrial activity.

Horn argues that the positive reaction of many Enlightened French administrators and entrepreneurs to British competition did not survive the emergence of greater working-class militancy. "The flames of burning machines" therefore lit different paths, with French improvers embracing longer-term means of achieving the same ends.

Indeed, the political background of the two generations after the French Revolution is seen as leading to distinctive French approaches to individual initiative, state oversight and scientific expertise. An industrial strategy dominated by domestic circumstances directs attention to comparative issues of labour control in Britain.

This is a long way from a resource-based account of economic development. Coal and canals are not seen as the answers. Thus, Horn's book also invites attention by those considering British developments in the period. A longer book would have permitted a more thorough working out of the theme particularly with reference to long-term developments in France and as far as the comparison with Britain is concerned. Hopefully, Horn will have the opportunity to pursue these themes in future work.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.

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