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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

The Origins of the Modern World A Global and Environmental Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century

Out of Print
By: Robert B Marks(Author)
301 pages, 8 b/w illustrations, 6 b/w maps
The Origins of the Modern World
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  • The Origins of the Modern World ISBN: 9781538127032 Edition: 4 Paperback Jul 2019 Out of Print #245799
  • The Origins of the Modern World ISBN: 9781538127025 Edition: 4 Hardback Jul 2019 Out of Print #245800
About this book Contents Biography Related titles

About this book

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 and upon the maturing field of environmental history, constructs a story in which those parts of the world play major roles, including their impacts on the environment. 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, increasing inequality within the wealthiest industrialized countries, and an escape from the environmental constraints of 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 eighteenth century; a conjuncture of human and natural forces that solidified a gap between the industrialized and non-industrialized parts of the world; and the mounting environmental crisis that defines the modern world.

Now in a new edition that brings the saga of the modern world to the present in an environmental context, The Origins of the Modern World 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, and why the changed relationship of humans to the environmental likely will be the hallmark of the modern era – the Anthopocene. Once again arguing that the US rise 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.


List of Figures and Maps
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Rise of the West?
The Rise of the West
“The Gap” and Its Explanations
Stories and Historical Narratives
The Elements of an Environmentally Grounded Non-Eurocentric Narrative

Chapter One: The Material and Trading World, circa 1400
      The Biological Old Regime
      The Weight of Numbers
      Climate Change
      Population Density and Civilization
      The Agricultural Revolution
      Towns and Cities in 1400
      Nomadic Pastoralists
      Population Growth and Land
      The Nitrogen Cycle and World History
      Epidemic Disease
      The World and Its Trading System circa 1400
      The Black Death: A Mid-Fourteenth-Century Conjuncture
      Conclusion: The Biological Old Regime
Chapter Two: Starting with China
      The Voyages of Zheng He, 1405–1433
      India and the Indian Ocean
      Dar al-Islam, “The Abode of Islam”
      Europe and the Gunpowder Epic
      Armed Trading on the Mediterranean
      Portuguese Explorations of the Atlantic
      Armed Trading in the Indian Ocean
Chapter Three: Empires, States, and the New World, 1500–1775
      Empire Builders and Conquerors
      Russia and China
      Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman Expansion
      The Dynamics of Empire
      The Americas
      The Aztecs
      The Inca
      The Conquest of the Americas and the Spanish Empire
      The Columbian Exchange
      The Great Dying
      Labor Supply Problems
      The Spanish Empire and Its Collapse
      China’s Demand for Silver
      The New World Economy
      Human Migration and the Early Modern World
      The Global Crisis of the Seventeenth Century and the European State System
      State Building
      The Seven Years’ War, 1756–1763
Chapter Four: The Industrial Revolution and Its Consequences, 1750–1850
      Cotton Textiles
      The New World as a Peculiar Periphery
      New Sources of Energy and Power
      Exhausting the Earth
      England, Redux
      Coal, Iron, and Steam
      Recap: Without Colonies, Coal, or State Support
      Science and Technology
      Tea, Silver, Opium, Iron, and Steam
      Iron and Steam
      Conclusion: Into the Anthropocene
Chapter Five: The Gap
      The Gap
      Opium and Global Capitalism
      Industrialization Elsewhere
      The United States
      New Dynamics in the Industrial World
      The Environmental Consequences of Industrialization
      Sources of Global Warming Gases in the Nineteenth Century
      The Social Consequences of Industrialization
      Factories and Work
      Women and Families
      Resistance and Revolution
      Industrialization and Migration
      Nations and Nationalism
      The Scrambles for Africa and China
      El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World
      Social Darwinism and Self-Congratulatory Eurocentrism
Chapter Six: The Great Departure
      Introduction to the Twentieth Century and Beyond
      Part I: Nitrogen, Wars, and the First Deglobalization, 1900–1945
      World War I and the Beginning of the Thirty-Year Crisis (1914–1945)
      Colonial Independence Movements
      The Great Depression of the 1930s
      World War II
      Part II: The Post–War and Cold War Worlds, 1945–1991
      Asian Revolutions
      Development and Underdevelopment
      Consumerism versus Productionism
      Third World Developmentalism
      Migration, Refugees, and States
      Global Inequality
      Inequality within Rich Countries
      Part III: Globalization and Its Opponents, 1991–Present
      The End of the Cold War
      The End of History?
      A Clash of Civilizations?
      Global Free Trade
      Energy, Oil, and War
      Does History Repeat Itself?
      Part IV: The Great Departure: Into the Anthropocene
Conclusion:Changes, Continuities, and the Shape of the Future
      The Story Summarized
      Into the Future

Customer Reviews


Robert B. Marks is Richard and Billie Deihl Professor of History at Whittier College. His books include China: Its Environment and History (Rowman & Littlefield). He is the recipient of Whittier College's Harry W. Nerhood Teaching Excellence Award.

Out of Print
By: Robert B Marks(Author)
301 pages, 8 b/w illustrations, 6 b/w maps
Media reviews

Praise for the third edition:

"This third edition of The Origins of the Modern World accentuates the book's strengths – especially by deepening its discussion of environmental change and of global inequality – while remaining compact, highly readable, and easy to connect with contemporary concerns. Fair-minded but not bland, it has a potential to spark classroom discussion that conventional textbooks rarely have, while providing a helpful basic narrative around which to organize an appealing world history class."
– Kenneth Pomeranz, University of Chicago

"The Origins of the Modern World combines two virtues that most textbooks lack: concision and an actual thesis. Rather than assuming the voice of an omniscient narrator, Marks makes a compelling argument about the multiple causes and consequences – human and ecological – of modernity. My students actually read this text, grasp its arguments, and find it stimulating."
– E. Taylor Atkins, Northern Illinois University

"Always the favorite when it comes to incisive world history agenda-setting, the third edition of The Origins of the Modern World has a more fully developed overview, one that is big on humans and the history of the environment and encourages critical thinking on a global scale."
– Edmund Burke III, University of California at Santa Cruz

Praise for the previous editions:

"Marks is eminently well-qualified to bring Asia to the front of the story about the origins of the modern world [...] Inspired mostly through the work of André Gunder Frank and Ken Pomeranz, Marks writes a world history survey that is very useful for locating the place of China and India in the construction of the modern world."
– Adrian Carton; Education About Asia

"The Origins of the Modern World aims at the undergraduate student [...] but any teacher who has struggled with the question, 'When did American Civilization begin?' will see other applications. Inexpensive enough to consider as a supplemental reading requirement in a traditional Atlantic History class or even for an American History survey, this well designed textbook will orient students toward broader awareness, both historically and within their own world."
– Joe Petrulionis; U.S. Intellectual History

"This is a splendid book that [...] brings together the very latest scholarship to provide a highly readable and erudite account of world history over the last half a millennium [...] I thus thoroughly recommend this book."
– James Beattie, University of Waikato; New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies

"A very useful tool for world history courses, undergraduate and graduate, as well as offering new concepts for scholars still locked in rigid territorial or national studies [...] The composition in this concise book is clear and topics are interestingly presented, while the source references make it useful for classroom research projects [...] A helpful account of the principles and organization of trade in world history, written from a global perspective."
– Mary Watrous-Schlesinger; World History Connected

"Marks convincingly discredits the standard Eurocentric narrative of mainstream historians, replacing it with a balanced story that places Asia at the centre prior to the 1800s and Europe (then, America) at the centre thereafter. [The author uses] a cogent, accessible style grounded in key historical concepts such as contingency, conjuncture, and accident."
– James L. Huffman, Wittenberg University; Pacific Affairs

"Sets out an analytical framework that is accessible to students while providing an approach to world history that aspires to be truly global. Remarkable in [its] presentation of coherent global narratives in less than two hundred pages. Marks's book has a strong emphasis on economic factors and Western coercion and exploitation and has a clear analytical framework. Closely accompanied by lecture and discussion, it could be used to frame a world history course for the period after 1400."
– David Ringrose; Journal of World History

"By far the best of the current world history books on the market. Its main strengths lie in its non-Eurocentric viewpoint, its clear narrative, and its brevity. I would (and have) unreservedly recommended the book to colleagues teaching in the field, as well as to others seeking a quick introduction to the history of the world."
– Sarah Kovner, University of Florida

"A lucid, accessible explanation of the interaction of world regions and the construction of globalization. A valuable work for undergraduates."
– Martin Anderson, Dominican University

"I love this book – and more importantly, students do as well. Nothing beats it for putting global perspectives on the table in a readable and intelligent way."
– Thomas Saylor, Concordia University

"In my world history class from the Mongols to the present, I use The Origins of the Modern World, which students love. They enjoy the brevity of the book, as well as its clear and provocative thesis. It's also nice from a teaching point of view, since Marks uses footnotes and models the sort of writing we expect from students."
– Bram Hubbell, Friends Seminary

"The best easily readable overview of the Eurocentric vs. World History debate yet. It should become a standard supplement in the college world history market."
– Dennis O. Flynn, University of the Pacific

"In a mere 218 pages of accessible prose, Robert Marks distills world history of the past six centuries to its essence. Truly global in scope, and fully attentive to environmental contexts, this book is ideal for the classroom: it will provoke both thought and discussion – and occasional disagreement."
– John R. McNeill, Georgetown University

"Splendid, fresh, forceful, and efficient. Marks has a clear focus on the Eurocentrism of most of the textbooks on world history and he has developed an effective, solidly grounded strategy to counter the problem. The ideas are challenging, and the prose is readable and engaging. Ideal for introductory surveys of world history."
– Edward L. Farmer, University of Minnesota

"Terrific! It's far and away the best of its type I've found in over thirty years of teaching. It's clear, succinct, and yet wonderfully comprehensive. It brings together all the current thinking in world history in about as nice a package as can be imagined."
– Paul Solon, Macalester College

"I am delighted and excited by this book – it provides such an excellent overview of what world history is all about. The economy of the writing, the great balance the book displays in juggling an enormous agenda, and the elucidation of concepts are superb."
–  Ewa K. Bacon, Lewis University

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