The best books to understand the global rise of fiscal states

Why am I passionate about this?

Why do some states appear to be so much more stable and secure than others. Why are some states so much more successful in providing public services such as health care, education, and infrastructure to their citizens than others. As an economic historian interested in the deeper roots of global inequalities in human welfare, the long-run development of states has always been one of the principal themes I have studied. In my view, the fiscal capacity of the state can be considered as the backbone of the state. Understanding the formation of fiscal states thus brings us closer to intricate puzzles of power, policies, and economic development.  


I wrote...

Fiscal Capacity and the Colonial State in Asia and Africa, c.1850-1960

By Ewout Frankema (editor), Anne Booth (editor),

Book cover of Fiscal Capacity and the Colonial State in Asia and Africa, c.1850-1960

What is my book about?

Until the early nineteenth century, European colonial control over Asia and Africa was largely confined to coastal and island settlements, which functioned as little more than trading posts. The officials running these settlements had neither the resources nor the need to develop new fiscal instruments. With the expansion of imperialism, the costs of maintaining colonies rose. Home governments, reluctant to place the financial burden of imperial expansion on metropolitan taxpayers, pressed colonial governments to become fiscally self-supporting.

A team of leading historians provides a comparative overview of how colonial states set up their administrative systems and how these regimes involved local people and elites. They shed new light on the political economy of colonial state formation and the institutional legacies they left behind at independence.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Paths Toward the Modern Fiscal State: England, Japan, and China

Ewout Frankema Why did I love this book?

This book traces the paths of fiscal development in England, Japan, and China, focusing on a critical era of institutional reform after, respectively, the English Civil Wars, the Meiji Restoration, and the Taiping Rebellion.

He brilliantly shows how these events led to urgent calls for state revenue, but how responses differed. England and Japan developed tools of modern public finance and equipped themselves to become world powers. China failed and only caught up much later.

This book is a wonderful example of historical comparative research in fiscal state formation, offering deep insights into the rise of the modern world system. 

By Wenkai He,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paths Toward the Modern Fiscal State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The rise of modern public finance revolutionized political economy. As governments learned to invest tax revenue in the long-term financial resources of the market, they vastly increased their administrative power and gained the ability to use fiscal, monetary, and financial policy to manage their economies. But why did the modern fiscal state emerge in some places and not in others? In approaching this question, Wenkai He compares the paths of three different nations-England, Japan, and China-to discover why some governments developed the tools and institutions of modern public finance, while others, facing similar circumstances, failed to do so.

Focusing on…


Book cover of The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History, 1500-1914

Ewout Frankema Why did I love this book?

This book offers a survey of the rise of fiscal states across the vast Eurasian continent spanning four centuries from 1500 to 1914.

The contributions zoom in on the intricate problems of fiscal capacity building in states as diverse as the Dutch Republic, Japan, India, and the Ottoman Empire.

The essays deploy comparative and transnational perspectives to interrogate why more effective fiscal systems emerged in several European states during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and how these played out in the rapid economic divergence between Eastern and Southern Asia and Western Europe.

As such, this book can be regarded as a landmark contribution to the famous Great Divergence debate.

By Bartolome Yun-Casalilla (editor), Patrick K. O'Brien (editor), Francisco Comin Comin (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise of Fiscal States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Netherlands to the Ottoman Empire, to Japan and India, this groundbreaking volume confronts the complex and diverse problem of the formation of fiscal states in Eurasia between 1500 and 1914. This series of country case studies from leading economic historians reveals that distinctive features of the fiscal state appeared across the region at different moments in time as a result of multiple independent but often interacting stimuli such as internal competition over resources, European expansion, international trade, globalisation and war. The essays offer a comparative framework for re-examining the causes of economic development across this period and show,…


Book cover of Global Taxation: How Modern Taxes Conquered the World

Ewout Frankema Why did I love this book?

This book sheds light on a very important yet greatly understudied theme: how modern tax systems spread across the globe.

Modern taxes refer to the broad-based tax instruments such as income taxes and general consumption taxes that underpin the rise of big government taxes.

The volume introduces a new historical dataset that maps the adoption of these modern taxes, covering both sovereign and colonial states from the 18th to the 21st century.

It shows how the logic of modern tax introductions in non-sovereign states differed from those in sovereign ones. In doing so, this volume goes beyond the methodological nationalism prevalent in fiscal sociology and comparative political economy. 

By Philipp Genschel (editor), Laura Seelkopf (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Global Taxation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Global Taxation investigates the global transition to modern taxation from the 18th century to today. Modern taxation refers to the broad-based tax instruments that allowed for the emergence of big government as we know it today, including, most prominently, income taxes and general consumption taxes. The volume draws on a new historical dataset of tax introduction worldwide to map the global spread of modern taxes descriptively and to explore its correlates
analytically. It makes four contributions to the literature. First, it corrects a pervasive Western bias in historical political economy and fiscal sociology. Most of this literature focuses heavily on…


Book cover of Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States

Ewout Frankema Why did I love this book?

This volume provides the first global survey of taxation in the premodern world.

The book demonstrates how dispersed societies across the globe adopted a great diversity of fiscal institutions and instruments, such depending on local geographic conditions, political ambitions, and distinct historical settings.

With a coverage including Europe, the Near East, East Asia, and the Americas, this is arguably the most global survey of fiscal states formation that currently exists on the market.

This book also makes an admirable effort in interdisciplinarity approaches to fiscal history, with authors contributing from a wide range of fields including history, anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology.

By Andrew Monson (editor), Walter Scheidel (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the new fiscal history, this book represents the first global survey of taxation in the premodern world. What emerges is a rich variety of institutions, including experiments with sophisticated instruments such as sovereign debt and fiduciary money, challenging the notion of a typical premodern stage of fiscal development. The studies also reveal patterns and correlations across widely dispersed societies that shed light on the basic factors driving the intensification, abatement, and innovation of fiscal regimes. Twenty scholars have contributed perspectives from a wide range of fields besides history, including anthropology, economics, political science and sociology. The volume's coverage…


Book cover of Taxing Colonial Africa: The Political Economy of British Imperialism

Ewout Frankema Why did I love this book?

This book focuses on the financial structure of the British Empire in Africa.

It traces how fiscal systems evolved in line with the two central aims of colonial rule: maintaining law and order on the cheap and promoting export production.

The book shows how efforts by colonial states to balance their budgets influenced their relationships with local elites as well as the imperial government.

Gardner uses quantitative data on public revenue and expenditure as well as qualitative archival records to follow the development of fiscal policies in British Africa from the beginning of colonial rule through the first years of independence, including the upheavals of the two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the ultimate handover of power.

For an in-depth study of the politics of colonial taxation, this is certainly one of the best books on the market.  

By Leigh A. Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Taxing Colonial Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How much did the British Empire cost, and how did Britain pay for it? Taxing Colonial Africa explores a source of funds much neglected in research on the financial structure of the Empire, namely revenue raised in the colonies themselves. Requiring colonies to be financially self-sufficient was one of a range of strategies the British government used to lower the cost of imperial expansion to its own Treasury. Focusing on British colonies in Africa, Leigh
Gardner examines how their efforts to balance their budgets influenced their relationships with local political stakeholders as well as the imperial government. She finds that…


You might also like...

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in colonies, China, and presidential biography?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about colonies, China, and presidential biography.

Colonies Explore 73 books about colonies
China Explore 597 books about China
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography