The Great Divergence Book Summary - The Great Divergence Book explained in key points

The Great Divergence summary

Kenneth Pomeranz

Brief summary

The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomeranz explores the economic history of the world and argues that China and Europe were on similar trajectories until the 18th century, when Europe forged ahead due to fortunate circumstances.

Give Feedback
Table of Contents

    The Great Divergence
    Summary of key ideas

    Understanding the Great Divergence

    In The Great Divergence, Kenneth Pomeranz delves into the historical roots of the economic and technological disparities between the East and the West. He begins by challenging the conventional wisdom that attributes the West's industrial revolution to its unique cultural, political, or geographical advantages. Instead, Pomeranz argues that the divergence was not preordained, and that the East and West were, until the 18th century, on similar economic trajectories.

    Pomeranz highlights the similarities between Europe and China in the 18th century, emphasizing that both regions had comparable levels of technology, urbanization, and per capita income. He also points out that China was ahead of Europe in several key areas, such as agricultural productivity, literacy rates, and the sophistication of its bureaucracy. This challenges the notion of a 'backward' East and an 'advanced' West.

    Factors Influencing the Divergence

    Having established the initial parity between the two regions, Pomeranz then explores the factors that led to the Great Divergence. He identifies two key factors that gave Europe an edge: the availability of cheap energy in the form of coal and the access to vast, untapped resources in the Americas. These resources, he argues, were crucial in fueling Europe's industrial revolution, allowing it to overcome the ecological constraints that had limited growth in other parts of the world.

    Furthermore, Pomeranz emphasizes the role of global trade in Europe's rise. He argues that the exploitation of the Americas and the trade with Asia provided Europe with the necessary resources and markets to fuel its industrial growth. In contrast, China's self-sufficient economy and its focus on internal stability limited its engagement with the global economy, preventing it from taking advantage of the opportunities that fueled Europe's rise.

    Implications and Lessons

    Throughout The Great Divergence, Pomeranz challenges the Eurocentric view of history, arguing that Europe's rise was not due to any inherent superiority, but rather a result of specific historical circumstances. He also highlights the environmental costs of Europe's industrial revolution, pointing out that the exploitation of the Americas and the use of coal led to significant ecological damage.

    Finally, Pomeranz concludes by discussing the implications of the Great Divergence for the modern world. He argues that understanding the historical roots of global inequality is crucial for addressing the challenges of the present. By recognizing that the current global economic order is not a natural outcome, but rather the result of specific historical processes, we can better understand and address the persistent disparities between the East and the West.


    In conclusion, The Great Divergence offers a thought-provoking reinterpretation of world history, challenging the traditional narrative of Western exceptionalism. Pomeranz's analysis underscores the contingent nature of historical development and the complex interplay of environmental, economic, and geopolitical factors. By shedding light on the historical roots of global inequality, the book encourages us to critically examine our assumptions about the world and consider alternative paths for the future.

    Give Feedback
    How do we create content on this page?
    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is The Great Divergence about?

    The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomeranz explores the economic and social changes that led to the rise of the West and the divergence between Western Europe and East Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Through a careful analysis of historical data and economic theories, Pomeranz challenges the traditional narrative and offers a new perspective on this pivotal period in world history.

    The Great Divergence Review

    The Great Divergence (2000) explores the factors behind the economic rise of the West and why it surpassed China and India. Here's why this book is worth your time:

    • Unravels the complexities of global economic history, shedding light on the roots of Western dominance.
    • Challenges traditional narratives by emphasizing the role of environmental factors in shaping economic development.
    • Offers a fresh perspective on the age-old question of why some nations prospered while others lagged behind, keeping the reader intellectually engaged throughout.

    Who should read The Great Divergence?

    • Readers interested in understanding the historical roots of global economic inequality
    • Individuals seeking insights into the factors that led to the rise of the West and the decline of other civilizations
    • Academic researchers and students studying the dynamics of economic development and divergence

    About the Author

    Kenneth Pomeranz is a renowned historian and professor at the University of Chicago. He has made significant contributions to the field of world history, with a focus on China and the global economy. Pomeranz's book, The Great Divergence, challenges traditional Eurocentric views and explores the factors that led to the economic divergence between the East and the West. His work has received numerous accolades and has had a profound impact on the study of global history.

    Categories with The Great Divergence

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    The Great Divergence FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Great Divergence?

    The book explores the roots of modern economic inequality between East and West.

    How long does it take to read The Great Divergence?

    Reading time varies, but expect hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in a fraction of the time.

    Is The Great Divergence a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Great Divergence is a thought-provoking read on global economic history. Worthwhile for those interested in the topic.

    Who is the author of The Great Divergence?

    Kenneth Pomeranz is the author of The Great Divergence.

    What to read after The Great Divergence?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Great Divergence, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson
    • The Big Short by Michael Lewis
    • Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • Civilization by Niall Ferguson
    • No Logo by Naomi Klein
    • The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich August von Hayek
    • Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma
    • The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson
    • Free to Choose by Milton Friedman