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The range of William Rosen’s fascinating and useful book is very broad indeed. He is interested in THE question: why did the singular improvement in living standards known as the industrial revolution happen where and when it did?
The question is not just of historical interest—if we can figure out what caused the improvement then and there, we have a better shot at continuing to improve in the here and now.
I especially enjoyed and learned from William Rosen’s discussion, examples and quotations on the difficult issue of whether patents are on balance a good or bad institution.
Deirdre McCloskey taught me that the most important part of a sentence is the last word, and the most important part of a paragraph is the last sentence, and the most important part of a chapter is the last paragraph.
Here are the last couple of sentences of Rosen’s book:
(p. 324) Incised in the stone over the Herbert C. Hoover Building’s north entrance is the legend that, with Lincoln’s characteristic brevity, sums up the single most important idea in the world:THE PATENT SYSTEM ADDED
THE FUEL OF INTEREST
TO THE FIRE OF GENIUS
In the next few weeks I will occasionally quote a few of the more illuminating passages from Rosen’s well-written account.
Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.