Notes and Review - The Lever of Riches (Mokyr)


The Lever of Riches is a great book. I think I say that about a lot of books though. Lever of Riches is a 3-part book. In the first part, Mokyr presents a concise history of Technological progress starting in 500 BC and ending around \1915. In the second part, Mokyr compares the relative technological progress in three periods across time and space and the possible reasons (he touches on religion, culture, geography and national sentiment as possible reasons). In the last part, he draws an analogy between Biological Evolution and Technological progress.

I liked the first and second parts immensely. I didn’t find the last part (the analogy) very intersting or useful.

Some of the notes I made as I was reading this book.

Part 1

In conjunction with other inventions, power technology created the gap between Europe and the rest of the world, a temporary dis-equilibrium that allowed the Europeans to establish global political and military domination.

Technological growth seems to be the only avenue of sustained growth

Part 2

Part 3

A gentleman only concerns himself with the lofty ideals of pure science, scientific research for it’s own sake


  1. Great summarization: What is this book about? I think that if you read the Introduction part of the book, you understand that and know exactly what’s about to come. So many books are free-wheeling narratives of the author’s research areas that it has few (if any) connections to the topic at hand once you are deep into the book. This book doesn’t lose the plot. It aims to provide one possible explanation for the apparent difference in quality of life between the West and most of Asia and Africa.

If the West is on teh whole comfortable, even opulent, compared to the appaling poverty still rampant in most of Asia and Africa, it is in large part thanks to its technology.

  1. Excellent structure: I started noticing this in non-fiction books after the majorly disorienting narrative in The Box (Levinson). That was also a great book, but the fact that the narrative wasn’t chronological really messed up my comprehension of the book. Lever of Riches stays on track and moves linearly through the Ancient times, the Industrial Revolution to the late 20th century. There are no unnecessary breaks, few parallel narratives which are always geographically isolated.

  2. Description and analysis of other prevalent theories: The author leans heavily on work done by others in his attempt to prove his own theory. And along this line, it was fairly clear to me, every step along the way that whatever the author was saying was thoroughly researched and that the author had seriously considered what other people believed and had not dismissed their points of view out of hand.

  3. History of technological progress: The second part of the book is a concise history of technological progress. There are several diagrams and a lot of dates and names. I felt that the author did justice to this topic and I learnt a LOT just from this part of the book. If anything, I highly recommend this part of the book in isolation. A better book of technological history definitely exists out there and the author admits as much, but I felt that the detail Mokyr goes into is just right. (My opinion is bound to change when I read a more thorough history which touches on some of the things Mokyr skipped over)

  4. Great comparisons: The comparisons that make up the third part of the book are definitely my highlight from this book. I liked the times and countries he compared because I have struggled in the past to understand the vast gap in the servies and quality of life in these places first hand, and this book helped me understand one probable cause for these differences.

  5. Not crazy about the Evolution analogy: The last part of the book is an attempt by Mokyr to draw several parallels between biological evolution and technological progress. The analogy seems to hold in most cases and there are several holes, etc. In general though, I didn’t like this part of the book as much as I liked the preceding 2 parts.