Capsule Review: The Verge, by Patrick Wyman


The verge is a short and very readable account of an early phase in the rise of modern Europe, from 1490 to 1530 or so. Wyman has selected a cast of characters including Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella, Martin Luther, the banker Jacob Fugger, various printers, Emperor Charles V and Suleyman the magnificent; and he uses their stories to weave a story of how the foundations of modern Europe (and by extension, of modernity itself) were laid by the fortuitous intersection of many small and big changes. The invention of printing, the rise of modern finance, the rise of professional military men, the reformation, all these played a role in creating the modern states of Western Europe; states that soon outclassed all competitors and eventually dominated the entire globe. If there is one factor that gets star billing in this book, it is the financial innovations that allowed Western European monarchies to tap more capital in more innovative ways, but the whole point is that no one magic factor drove the great divergence; many different factors came together to set the stage for it. The book is very well written and Wyman has a eye for interesting anecdotes and factoids that keep the reader engaged and interested. Well worth a read.

If you are interested in learning more, Razib Khan has a good review in the National Review:… (less)