Skip navigation
Hardcover | $45.00 Short | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780262083522 | 400 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 3 illus.| August 2006
Paperback | $25.00 Short | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780262582834 | 400 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 3 illus.| August 2008

Essential Info

The Path Not Taken

French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830


In The Path Not Taken, Jeff Horn argues that—contrary to standard, Anglocentric accounts—French industrialization was not a failed imitation of the laissez-faire British model but the product of a distinctive industrial policy that led, over the long term, to prosperity comparable to Britain's. Despite the upheavals of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, France developed and maintained its own industrial strengths. France was then able to take full advantage of the new technologies and industries that emerged in the "second industrial revolution," and by the end of the nineteenth century some of France's industries were outperforming Britain's handily. The Path Not Taken shows that the foundations of this success were laid during the first industrial revolution.

Horn posits that the French state's early attempt to emulate Britain's style of industrial development foundered because of revolutionary politics. The "threat from below" made it impossible for the state or entrepreneurs to control and exploit laborers in the British manner. The French used different means to manage labor unruliness and encourage innovation and entrepreneurialism. Technology is at the heart of Horn's analysis, and he shows that France, unlike England, often preferred still-profitable older methods of production in order to maintain employment and forestall revolution. Horn examines the institutional framework established by Napoleon's most important Minister of the Interior, Jean-Antoine Chaptal. He focuses on textiles, chemicals, and steel, looks at how these new institutions created a new industrial environment. Horn's illuminating comparison of French and British industrialization should stir debate among historians, economists, and political scientists.

About the Author

Jeff Horn is Professor of History at Manhattan College and the author of three books, including The Path Not Taken: French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1839 (MIT Press, 2006).


"Clearly written and drawing on an impressive range of sources, this is an account of importance not only for French history, but also for analyses of economic development.", Jeremy Black, History

"Ambitious and pugnacious... not without relevance to present debates.", Robert Tombs, Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

"It is ambitious and broad ranging in its conceptualization; its argument is original, deeply-researched, and compelling.", John Shovlin, Journal of Modern History


"This brilliant study of French industrialization transcends its own exemplary scholarship to remind us of three major features of that complex process. First, analyses that neglect the state are about as tenable as medicine without cardiology. Second, the famous and precocious British case is now represented more realistically as one of successful mercantilism and repression. Above all, Horn shows that French industrialization took a form and path that were deeply conditioned by the state's mediation between the claims of a revolutionary workforce and those of a cautious entrepreneurial class. His book is a highly innovative appreciation of the French case, and good social science as well."
Patrick O'Brien, Centennial Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science, and Fellow of the British Academy

"In this impressive new interpretation of France's unique path to industrialization, Jeff Horn places politics—both big and small—at the heart of economic change. By highlighting labor relations and state policy, he offers a compelling and refreshing argument for the long-term economic significance of the French Revolution and remaps the route toward industrial change."
Suzanne Desan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"The Path Not Taken offers an original and fruitfully controversial interpretation of French industrialization during the eras of enlightenment and revolution. Amplifying on recent non-Anglocentric historiography of the Industrial Revolution, Horn presents a meticulous account of the political, social, and economic conditions that enabled French industrialization, as well as providing a useful comparative framework for assessing the industrial and economic relations between France and England."
Mordechai Feingold, Professor of History, California Institute of Technology