Martin Vander Weyer in The Telegraph:
The course of history can be interpreted in many ways: as a search for food, water and treasure; as an ideological clash between light and dark; as a class struggle; or as a random intersection of topography, technology, disease, weather and occasional outbursts of charismatic leadership. Abba’s Waterloo reminds us: “The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.” But why? And is it really possible to nail history into a simple framework that explains everything? That, essentially, is what Philip T Hoffman, professor of business economics and history at the California Institute of Technology, attempts in Why Did Europe Conquer the World? – an elegantly concise contribution to the Princeton Economic History of the Western World series. Its starting point is the assertion that Europe really did conquer the world, or at least 84 per cent of it, between 1492 and 1914 – but that you probably would not have bet on that outcome had you landed on Earth in the year 900, when our continent was deeply backward in comparison with the cultural and commercial sophistication of the Muslim Middle East, southern China and Japan.
So why did those early leaders of civilisation stay at home and regress, while our ancestors sailed the seas and built empires?It was not a matter of economic supremacy through industrialisation, which arrived only in the last of the five centuries or so that Hoffman’s study covers. Rather, he argues, it was down to both military and economic advantage gained through “gunpowder technology” – the continuing development of firearms, artillery, ships armed with guns and fortifications that could resist bombardment – which itself derived from the fact that warfare was “the sole purpose of early modern states in western Europe”.