Simon Schama, 18 September 1980
Professor Cipolla’s new book puts one in mind of a Florentine espresso: miniscule in size; briefly stimulating in effect; and extortionate in price. At £7.50 for 85 pages of text his readers will be shelling out eight pence a page, a tariff which, I couldn’t help but calculate, would have put my own first book in the shops for around £65 a copy. Not for nothing, then, is he renowned as the most economical of economic historians, specialising in small books on big subjects – literacy, population, technology and the like. Many of these have brilliantly succeeded in dealing with complex historical problems within the space of a nutshell. In this case, however, the shell is altogether more imposing than the nut.