The most recommended books on industrialisation

Who picked these books? Meet our 18 experts.

18 authors created a book list connected to industrialization, and here are their favorite industrialization books.
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Book cover of The Chinese Economy: Adaptation and Growth

George Magnus Author Of Red Flags: Why XI's China Is in Jeopardy

From my list on on understanding modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I used to be Chief Economist at the UK bank SG Warburg and then at UBS, starting out in 1987 and finally cutting the cord in 2016 as Senior Economic Advisor. I visited China twice or three times a year from about 1994 and then the pandemic intervened. After the financial crisis, I decided that China would be the world’s next big thing. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on there and for the last few years, I've been an associate at the China Centre at Oxford University and SOAS in London. Red Flags was a book I simply had to write. Maybe there’ll be another. We shall see.

George's book list on on understanding modern China

George Magnus Why did George love this book?

Naughton is the grandfather of China economy books, having written prolifically and with great authority on it for what seems like an eternity. This second edition updates his original 2006 work and should be considered a sort of bible, certainly an essential reference, on how China emerged from poverty under Mao to become what it is today. There are no economic or economic policy or structure stones unturned in this tome.

If you are more minded to read an authoritative narrative rather than a sort of handbook, I recommend a much shorter, readable book by the same author, published last year called The Rise of China’s Industrial Policy. It’s also very topical and pertinent to contemporary China discussion.

By Barry J. Naughton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The new edition of a comprehensive overview of the modern Chinese economy, revised to reflect the end of the “miracle growth” period.

This comprehensive overview of the modern Chinese economy by a noted expert on China's economic development offers a quality and breadth of coverage not found in any other English-language text. In The Chinese Economy, Barry Naughton provides both a broadly focused introduction to China's economy since 1949 and original insights based on his own extensive research. This second edition has been thoroughly revised to reflect a decade of developments in China's economy, notably the end of the period…


Book cover of Nineteenth-Century Scientific Instruments

Tony Benson Author Of Brass and Glass: Optical Instruments and Their Makers

From my list on the history of scientific instruments.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated with stargazing, bird-watching, photography, and microscopy, and consequently vintage telescopes, binoculars, cameras, microscopes, and optical and scientific instruments in general. I began my career in an optics laboratory at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and went on to become a Chartered Engineer. After a successful career in science and engineering, spanning more than three decades, I left the corporate world to make stringed instruments and write fiction and non-fiction. Brass and Glass: Optical Instruments and Their Makers is my first non-fiction book. My novels include An Accident of Birth, and Galactic Alliance: Betrayal. I live in Kent, England with my wife, Margo, and our cat.

Tony's book list on the history of scientific instruments

Tony Benson Why did Tony love this book?

During the 19th century, the scientific instrument industry underwent a transformation. Not only did industrialisation see companies and corporations gradually take the place of individual skilled instrument makers working in their own names, but science took some new, previously unseen, directions. These included disciplines such as electromagnetism, vacuum technology, and spectroscopy, and required new instruments and new skills. This book describes the science and associated instruments in each of fifteen scientific disciplines, with photographs and information about the instruments, background, history, and makers. This is an excellent source of information for historians, collectors, and curators.

Book cover of The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience

William Barney Author Of Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy

From my list on an offbeat look at the Confederacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

From a youth devouring the books of Bruce Catton to my formative years as a historian, I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War, especially the thinking and experiences of southerners who lived through the cataclysmic war years. In my teaching and writing, I’ve tried to focus on the lived experiences, the hopes and fears, of southerners who seemingly embraced secession and an independent Southern Confederacy in the expectation of a short, victorious war only to become disenchanted when the war they thought would come to pass turned into a long, bloody stalemate. The books I’ve listed share my passion for the war and open new and often unexpected windows into the Confederate experience.

William's book list on an offbeat look at the Confederacy

William Barney Why did William love this book?

Here is the best introduction to how the Confederacy transformed itself into a mirror image of the South’s traditional portrayal as a static agricultural society based on states’ rights. To meet the demands of waging the Civil War, the Confederacy underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization directed by a strong centralized bureaucracy in Richmond. New and expanded roles opened up for southern women challenging the prerogatives of male patriarchy. How many of these changes would have become permanent had the Confederacy survived is an open question, but the Confederacy decidedly was not an extension of the Old South.

By Emory M. Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The purpose of this book is to show that the Confederacy not only enacted an external revolution (in terms of its war with the Union), but that it also experienced a very significant internal revolution. Provides an explaination of what things within Southern society were revolutionized and in what ways.


Book cover of Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660–1900

Carl J. Griffin Author Of The Politics of Hunger: Protest, Poverty and Policy in England, C. 1750-C. 1840

From my list on explaining the politics behind hunger.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m driven to understand the lives and mentalities of poor workers at the time of the Industrial Revolution. It’s a subject on which a great has been written but I’ve always been surprised that, in a British context, the subject of hunger has been largely ignored. The great joy of being a historical scholar is that freedom to follow your nose in the archive, to trust your instinct, and to uncover untold stories of the forgotten. Their experiences of hunger might relate to a now seemingly distant world, but such hunger histories are also amazingly prescient in our new age of food banks and famines. 

Carl's book list on explaining the politics behind hunger

Carl J. Griffin Why did Carl love this book?

Masterful. Keith Snell is arguably the finest ever historian of the modern British countryside and this, his first book, has done more than any other to stimulate research. What’s the link to hunger? Annals examines the uneven contours of poverty and its relief, detailing the experience of poverty as well as its causes and conditions. It might be almost 40 years old, but it remains without unparallel in bringing together an understanding of law, social policy, and the cultures of everyday life. Without it my book couldn’t have been written.     

By K. D. M. Snell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Annals of the Labouring Poor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of inter-connected essays is concerned with the impact of social and economic change upon the rural labouring poor and artisans in England, and combines a sensitive understanding of their social priorities with innovative quantitative analysis. It is based on an impressive range of sources, and its particular significance arises from the pioneering use made of a largely neglected archival source - settlement records - to address questions of central importance in English social and economic history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Levels of employment, wage rates, poor relief, the sexual division of labour, the social consequences of…


Book cover of Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech

Gemma Milne Author Of Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It

From my list on navigate technology hype.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in and around the tech, science and startup world for the past 10 years, and hype has played various roles in my work and life. From working in advertising where my job was to build narratives around ideas and products, then in journalism where I was tasked with sorting hype from reality when deciding who and what to write about, to now being a researcher who looks into the very nature and power of narratives, ideologies, political economies and cultures around science and technology – hype has been a recurring topic which is so important in understanding and navigating the tech industry. I hope you find these books as enlightening as I have!

Gemma's book list on navigate technology hype

Gemma Milne Why did Gemma love this book?

I love how this book has been part of a resurgence of interest in the Luddites and has helped recontextualize the history. It really has punctured the hype around the idea that the Luddites were anti-tech – the book so brilliantly lays out the very fact that this important piece of hype-busting has been needed for some time for us to really come to terms with technology in today’s society.

It’s also just brilliant historical story-telling, and it’s written with fervour, which I always like in a book.

By Brian Merchant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood in the Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year

The most urgent story in modern tech begins not in Silicon Valley but two hundred years ago in rural England, when workers known as the Luddites rose up rather than starve at the hands of factory owners who were using automated machines to erase their livelihoods.

The Luddites organized guerrilla raids to smash those machines-on punishment of death-and won the support of Lord Byron, enraged the Prince Regent, and inspired the birth of science fiction. This all-but-forgotten class struggle brought nineteenth-century England to its knees.

Today, technology imperils millions of…


Book cover of Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life

Don LePan Author Of Animals

From my list on to help us think of and want to help others.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like just about everyone, I was taught in childhood that we should think of others and help others. But then we start to hear different messages: “it’s naïve to think you can make the world a better place,” “you’re better off trying to help yourself—don’t waste your time with misguided attempts to help others,” "it’s sanctimonious to be a do-gooder,” and on and on it goes. The fact is, we can help to make the world a better place (without being sanctimonious). And we all should. We can volunteer, donate to good causes, eat less meat (or no meat at all), fly and drive less (or not at all!). And, as these authors have shown, the books we write can also make a real contribution.  

Don's book list on to help us think of and want to help others

Don LePan Why did Don love this book?

Gaskell wrote this novel at a time when workers and their families in Britain’s industrial cities labored under intolerable conditions, and it was all too common for their suffering “to pass unregarded by all but the sufferers,” as Gaskell puts it in her preface. Her aim in writing the novel was to bring their plight to the attention of those better off—and to engender sympathy for their plight in the hearts and minds of readers. In the first half of the novel, she succeeds completely; it would be impossible for any reader to remain unmoved while reading of the lives of the Wilson family and the Barton family. The second half of the novel succeeds less fully, but the first half remains as powerful a piece of writing as I have ever read.

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Jennifer Foster (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mary Barton first appeared in 1848, and has since become one of the best known novels on the 'condition of England,' part of a nineteenth-century British trend to understand the enormous cultural, economic and social changes wrought by industrialization. Gaskell's work had great importance to the labour and reform movements, and it influenced writers such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Charlotte Bronte.

The plot of Mary Barton concerns the poverty and desperation of England's industrial workers. Fundamentally, however, it revolves around Mary's personal conflicts. She is already divided between an affection for an industrialist's son, Henry Carson, and for…


Book cover of The Iron Dragon's Mother

Vajra Chandrasekera Author Of The Saint of Bright Doors

From my list on feeling lost and obsessed by a haunted world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Vajra Chandrasekera, from Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m a writer, and more importantly, a reader. My favourite kind of book is bigger on the inside, the kind that drops you into a world too big and too weird to really get a handle on, a world that’s strange in ways you feel you recognize, like how sometimes you wake up from a dream and think, I’ve dreamed about that place and those people before, but you can’t tell if you have, or whether you dreamed the memory, too. You read the book and look at the world and you ask yourself: Did I dream those people, that place? Or is this the dream?

Vajra's book list on feeling lost and obsessed by a haunted world

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did Vajra love this book?

Technically—very technically—this is the conclusion of a trilogy, but it’s more three standalone novels that have some things to say to, and about, each other.

The first book, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, was hugely influential on me as a reader and writer, and on speculative fiction as a field. This one, two decades later, is the most direct about the mutual imbrication, the bidirectional haunting, between our world and theirs.

Swanwick’s Dragon books do indeed feature dragons, except the iron dragons are mechanical, warplanes bonded to their human pilots, in a version of Faerie that has fully integrated vile modernity and knows our souls all too well. 

By Michael Swanwick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Iron Dragon's Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2020 LOCUS AWARD FINALIST AND KIRKUS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF 2019

Award-winning author Michael Swanwick returns to the gritty, post-industrial faerie world of his New York Times Notable Book The Iron Dragon’s Daughter with the standalone adventure fantasy The Iron Dragon’s Mother.

Caitlin of House Sans Merci is the young half-human pilot of a sentient mechanical dragon. Returning from her first soul-stealing raid, she discovers an unwanted hitchhiker.

When Caitlin is framed for the murder of her brother, to save herself she must disappear into Industrialized Faerie, looking for the one person who can clear her.

Unfortunately,…


Book cover of The Unnatural History of the Sea

Thomas Blake Earle Author Of The Liberty to Take Fish: Atlantic Fisheries and Federal Power in Nineteenth-Century America

From my list on why the history of the ocean matters.

Why am I passionate about this?

I think about the ocean a lot. Teaching in Galveston, Texas, at a university less than a mile from the ocean means it's on my mind most of the time. And it's not just the fish! I’m fascinated by all things ocean and have spent my career trying to understand the place of the watery world in the history of the United States. From fishing in the North Atlantic, to the history of the U.S. Navy, and even surfing on the Gulf Coast my writing, not to mention reading, usually points to the coast and beyond.

Thomas' book list on why the history of the ocean matters

Thomas Blake Earle Why did Thomas love this book?

Overfishing may seem like a modern problem. The imperiled oceanic ecosystem inhabited by populations of marine species teetering on the edge of extinction may sound like a relic of recent industrialization, but Callum Roberts shows the story is much older.

According to Roberts the overfishing crisis of today has its origins nearly a millennia ago. Roberts, a marine ecologist by training, takes readers through what historically has been a repeated cycle of discovery, intensive exploitation, declining catches, and ultimately stock collapse that has devastated fisheries around the globe.

But Roberts does not merely give voice to a story of gloom and doom; instead he appeals to readers that more careful stewardship and the ocean’s own regenerative ability may turn the tide back. 

By Callum Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unnatural History of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Humanity can make short work of the oceans' creatures. As Callum M. Roberts reveals in The Unnatural History of the Sea, the oceans' bounty didn't disappear overnight. While today's fishing industry is ruthlessly efficient, intense exploitation began not in the modern era, or even with the dawn of industrialization, but in the 11th century in medieval Europe.


Book cover of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Melanie Beals Goan Author Of A Simple Justice: Kentucky Women Fight for the Vote

From my list on Kentucky history.

Why am I passionate about this?

When students ask me if I am from Kentucky, I say “no, but I got here as quickly as I could.”  I chose to make the state my home and raise my family here, and I have studied its history for nearly three decades.  I am drawn to Kentucky’s story and the paradox it represents: on one hand, you have the Derby, rolling hills and pastures, and fine bourbon, but set against that polished, sophisticated image are the stereotypes of a lawless, illiterate, poor state.  As a borderland, not quite north or south, east or west, Kentucky offers a fascinating lens through which to view the nation’s history.    

Melanie's book list on Kentucky history

Melanie Beals Goan Why did Melanie love this book?

Uneven Ground is a book about Appalachia, but it is also a story of American economic development and a cautionary tale about the failures of capitalism. Eastern Kentucky lies in the heart of central Appalachia, an area rich in resources but home to some of the nation’s poorest people. Eller knows more about the region’s challenges than anyone and he provides a compelling indictment of development narratives that emphasize industrialization and false promises of “progress.” His book offers hope that out-of-the-box thinking and a new definition of “the good life” can lead to healthy and more equitable communities in the mountains. 

By Ronald D Eller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Appalachia has played a complex and often contradictory role in the unfolding of American history. Created by urban journalists in the years following the Civil War, the idea of Appalachia provided a counterpoint to emerging definitions of progress. Early-twentieth-century critics of modernity saw the region as a remnant of frontier life, a reflection of simpler times that should be preserved and protected. However, supporters of development and of the growth of material production, consumption, and technology decried what they perceived as the isolation and backwardness of the place and sought to "uplift" the mountain people through education and industrialization. Ronald…


Book cover of Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation

Rupert Read Author Of Parents for a Future

From my list on eco-philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Rupert Read is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, where he works alongside some of the world’s leading climate scientists. He is a campaigner for the Green Party of England and Wales, a former spokesperson for the Extinction Rebellion, and co-founder of the Climate Activists Network, GreensCAN.

Rupert's book list on eco-philosophy

Rupert Read Why did Rupert love this book?

My next book is by far the least well-known of my authors, and it’s by far the least well-known book. It’s by my friend and colleague, Samuel Alexander, with whom I’ve co-written a couple of books now, including This Civilisation is Finished.

It’s a splendid read. For philosophers, it’s charming, because Sam is continually bringing in implicitly, and most explicitly, the great philosophers. He’s quoting or talking about Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, and the rest. His characters sometimes offer lines of one of them to each other. And, in that sense, it’s very much a novel of ideas in the tradition of utopias and dystopias.

By Samuel Alexander,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When industrial civilisation collapsed in the third decade of the 21st century, a community living on a small island in the South Pacific Ocean found itself permanently isolated from the rest of the world. With no option but to build a self-sufficient economy with very limited energy supplies, this community set about creating a simpler way of life that could flourish into the deep future. Determined above all else to transcend the materialistic values of the Old World, they made a commitment to live materially simple lives, convinced that this was the surest path to genuine freedom, peace, and sustainable…