The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007 - History - 221 pages
4 Reviews
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This clearly written and engrossing book presents a global narrative of the origins of the modern world from 1400 to the present. Unlike most studies, which assume that the "rise of the West" is the story of the coming of the modern world, this history, drawing upon new scholarship on Asia, Africa, and the New World, constructs a story in which those parts of the world play major roles. Robert B. Marks defines the modern world as one marked by industry, the nation state, interstate warfare, a large and growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest parts of the world, and an escape from "the biological old regime." He explains its origins by emphasizing contingencies (such as the conquest of the New World); the broad comparability of the most advanced regions in China, India, and Europe; the reasons why England was able to escape from common ecological constraints facing all of those regions by the 18th century; and a conjuncture of human and natural forces that solidified a gap between the industrialized and non-industrialized parts of the world. Now in a new edition that brings the saga of the modern world to the present, the book considers how and why the United States emerged as a world power in the twentieth century and became the sole superpower by the twenty-first century. Once again arguing that the rise of the United States to global hegemon was contingent, not inevitable, Marks also points to the resurgence of Asia and the vastly changed relationship of humans to the environment that may, in the long run, overshadow any political and economic milestones of the past hundred years.

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User Review  - Scapegoats - LibraryThing

This brief book looks at the origins of the modern world through two lenses. The first is through "the old biological regime", which is the limits placed on population and economic growth in ... Read full review

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This is a useful book for teaching undergraduates about the evolution of the world economy in a course where you do not have lots of time but do have access to some other supplemental readings (I pair it with _The History of Food_ by Thomas Standage, . What I found useful in this book was its clarification of Eurocentricism, its discussion of general conditions in China and India throughout the shifting to 'the West' as the core of the world economy and its notion of the biological old regime giving way to a fossil-fuel based regime as one of the key variables that enabled the industrial revolution to take root in the UK and propagate outward. Also, its discussion of accidents, contingencies and conjunctures are useful for helping students develop a better vocabulary / analytical framework for understanding how events unfold in time and space.
If you want a more in-depth understanding of the evolution of the world economy, there may be better texts -- I was always partial to Wolf and his Europe and the People without History. However, more power to you if you can get undergrads to slog through that text. Instead, if you want students to develop a reasonable initial understanding of the evolution of the world economy since circa 1400 to the late 20th century in under 200 pages, consider this title. It is also inexpensive, which means students are more likely to buy it, as well.

Selected pages


The Rise of the West?
The Material and Trading Worlds circa 1400
Starting with China
Empires States and the New World 15001775
The Industrial Revolution and Its Consequences 17501850
The Gap
The Great Departure
Changes and Continuities
About the Author

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About the author (2007)

Robert B. Marks is Richard and Billie Deihl Professor of History at Whittier College.

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