Last Sentence – Guns, Sails, and Empires

“The “Vasco da Gama’s era” ends in a nightmare in which men–Westerners and non-Westerners alike–are bewildered by this confusion and the old fancy of the apprenti sorcier becomes tragically actual.” -Carlo M. Cipolla

Apprenti sorcier means sorcerer’s apprentice. 

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Favorite Quote – Guns, Sails, and Empires

“As Dr. Chiang puts it, “while Buddha came to China on white elephants, Christ was borne on cannon balls.” -Carlo M. Cipolla

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Guns, Sails, and Empires for a PhD?

Carlo M. Cipolla is the author of “Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400-1700.” Cipolla lived from 1922 to 2000 until his death at the age of 78. As far as I can tell, he is the author of or has contributed to 20 or more books. Listed below are the ones I have found in English available for purchase. His interests started in Economic and European History, but by the end of his life his interests had turned to the History of Disease and Public Health. Honorary degrees were awarded to him in Italy and Zurich, Switzerland. This struck me as an interesting point because my favorite investment professional, Marc Faber, was born in Zurich, Switzerland and “Guns, Sails, and Empires” is actually on the list of books that he recommends people read to learn about economic and financial markets. Connection…maybe?

I read a review on Amazon that indicated that Cipolla had written “Guns, Sails, and Empires” to complete his PhD. The reviewer disliked the book and seemed to be disgusted by the thought that the author “wrote it to get his PHD.” He gave it a 2-star rating.  I could understand why someone would dislike an author’s work that resembles something quite different than the author’s other later works. Typically doctoral dissertations do not have the author’s voice. The author is often lost because academics are very resilient to creativity, disagreeing ideology, or anything outside of the statistical norm. This reviewer felt that the book had, “TOO many footnotes or end notes, not much informative or useful information.” I am not sure that he read the footnotes. There was actually a very interesting footnote talking about the change in war practices due to the high price of bronze. I will talk about this later this week in another written post. Anyway, it could in fact be the case that Cipolla wrote this book to get his PhD, but I could not find evidence for this.

The original publication/copyright date in my copy is 1965. Cipolla would have been 43 years old by this time. It seems a little late for his PhD, but still possible, right? According to Wikipedia, he received “his academic degree” in Pavia (Northern Italy) in 1944. He would have been 22 by now. I don’t think it would take him another 21 years to complete a PhD. I am not sure what kind of degree it was, but I found an obituary for Cipolla on the University of California, Berkeley website specifying that Cipolla had started to teach at UC Berkeley by 1959, which was 6 years prior to writing “Guns, Sails, and Empires.” Most universities require that you have a PhD before you can teach, but practices could have changed over the last 50 years. I may have to purchase a biography on Carlo M. Cipolla to confirm or deny this reviewers information because currently I still lack evidence that this book was actually part of Cipolla’s doctoral completion, either way the book is an interesting read, and I am strongly considering ordering his book titled, “Clocks and Culture: 1300-1700” in the near future. 

At the end of this post I have left links to the websites I used as source material.


Books by Carlo M. Cipolla:

  • Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400-1700
  • The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity
  • Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth- Century Tuscany
  • Fighting the Plague in the Seventeenth-Century Italy
  • Miasmas and Disease: Public Health and the Environment in the Pre-Industrial Age
  • Money in Sixteenth-Century
  • Clocks and Culture: 1300-1700
  • Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700
  • The Fontana Economic History of Europe”
  • The Economic History of Word Population
  • The Monetary Policy of Fourteenth Century Florence
  • The Technology of Man
  • Cristofano and the Plague
  • European Culture and Oversees Expansion: A Study in the History of Public Health in The Age of Galileo
  • Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History


University of California Berkeley Obituary:

Carlo M. Cipolla Wikipedia:

Amazon Review:

Marc Faber Website (


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Book Rating Method

I’ll be using a 5-star method for rating books on my blogs and YouTube channel. The rating is based on how I would recommend the book. The highest rating a book can get is 5-star and the lowest is a 1-star. The lowest rating where I would still recommend a book to someone is a 3-star rating. The meaning of each rating is below.

5-star: Must Read
4-star: Should Read
3-star: Recommended
2-star: Not Recommended
1-star: Do Not Read

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Launching “books for breakfast” in September 2012

Thanks for stopping by the “books for breakfast” website. I’m currently getting everything set up to launch in September 2012.

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