An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate

An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate

An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate

An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate


As the inventor of the separate-condenser steam engine -- that Promethean symbol of technological innovation and industrial progress -- James Watt has become synonymous with the spirit of invention, while his last name has long been immortalized as the very measurement of power. But contrary to popular belief, Watt did not single-handedly bring about the steam revolution. His "perfect engine" was as much a product of late-nineteenth-century Britain as it was of the inventor's imagination.

As one of the greatest technological developments in human history, the steam engine was a major progenitor of the Industrial Revolution, but it was also symptomatic of its many problems. Armed with a patent on the separate-condenser principle and many influential political connections, Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton fought to maintain a twenty-five-year monopoly on steam power that stifled innovation and ruthlessly crushed competition. After tinkering with boiling kettles and struggling with leaky cylinders for years without success, Watt would eventually amass a fortune and hold sway over an industry. But, as Ben Marsden shows, he owed his astonishing rise as much to espionage and political maneuvering as to his own creativity and determination.

This is a tale of science and technology in tandem, of factory show-spaces and international espionage, of bankruptcy and brain drains, lobbying and legislation, and patents and pirates. It reveals how James Watt -- warts and all -- became an icon fit for an age of industry and invention.


This book employs history to illuminate questions of policy and politics which still have resonance now. It aims to make visible some of the threads by which the past is connected with the present. It does so by bringing to light the first debates, which occurred in the late eighteenth century, about the possibility of a world without poverty. These arguments were no longer about Utopia in an age-old sense. They were inspired by a new question: whether scientific and economic progress could abolish poverty, as traditionally understood. Some of the difficulties encountered were eerily familiar. Many of the problems which politicians and journalists imagine to have arisen in the world only recently - globalisation, financial regulation, downsizing and commercial volatility - were already in the eighteenth century objects of recurrent concern.

It is of course true that the world in which discussion of these issues first arose was very different from our own. It was dominated by the revolutions of 1776 in America and 1789 in France, as well as by the first movements to overcome slavery . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.