The Path Not Taken

From Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology

The Path Not Taken

French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830

By Jeff Horn





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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262083522 400 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 illus.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262582834 400 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 illus.


  • Ambitious and pugnacious... not without relevance to present debates.

    Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

  • 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.

    Black History

  • It is ambitious and broad ranging in its conceptualization; its argument is original, deeply-researched, and compelling.

    Journal of Modern History


  • 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