This book presents the author's 001 American Enterprise Instutute's 2001 Henry Wendt Lecture. It contains Maddison's trademark method, which is the use of long-term (historical) quantitative data joined to long-term (historical) qualitative macroeconomic analysis
In these lectures, he aims to refute both (i) the neo-Malthusian views of Mokyr and others, who argue that economic development was basically stagnant before 1800, with living standards oscillating around a subsistence level, and constrained by a Malthusian trap (such that every time there was an economic advance, population growth ran smack into resource constraints that put an end to it; and (ii) the Pomeranz view that Europe and China only diverged AFTER 1800, because Europe had large coal deposits which they could use to replace the depletion of wood and (unlike in China) which were situated NEAR industrial centers. Maddison seems to show, on the basis of graphs and charts, that European per capita GDP diverged *dramatically* as early as the 14th century, stimulated by profound technological advances in shipping and navigation which lead (through the opening of the New World) to a massive increase in European-centered trade.
The book is brief, dry, full of numbers -- but I am sympathetic to his views on this particular topic.
On the other hand, Maddison (here) is sympathetic to neoliberalism and to Adam Smith - and seems to think the great take-off since WWII is inseparable from the neoliberal order -- but if China's rise over the next century is based on a neo-mercantile system and on credit controls, things may look very different by 2050 or 2100. And writing in 2001, he could not see that we may well have reached (in the OECD, at least) something of a parabolic top.
See chart on p. 42: http://pratclif.com/economy/OECD/World%20economy%20Madison.pdf
Maddison died at the age of 83 in 2010, but his website is housed here: