Maxine Berg, Professor of History at the University of Warwick, believes that many conventional histories concentrate too much on inventors and their inventions, and not enough on those who created the demand for the goods they produced. They ignore the vital transformation of consumer desires that went with the Industrial Revolution.

Christopher Cullen is a Senior Lecturer in the History of Chinese Science and Medicine at the School of Oriental and African Studies. 'By concentrating solely on the European roots of the Industrial Revolution,' he says, 'we lose sight of the fact that in 1800 the centre of the world economy was still in East Asia - where many technical advances linked to that revolution had already been made.'

Alan Macfarlane, Professor of Anthropological Science at Cambridge, believes the hardest thing if to realize that there is a mystery. 'But if you look at the long history of man, it's just a speck of time since we suddenly seem to have burst the bounds out of an agrarian agricultural world into an industrial, scientific and modern political world.'

Joel Mokyr, Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, Illinois, is interested in the political climate that produces inventions. 'As a general rule, the weaker the government, the better it is for innovations. With some notable exceptions, autocratic rulers have tended to be hostile or indifferent to technological change.'

Simon Schaffer, from the History and Philosophy of Science Department at Cambridge, is fascinated by the way our perceptions have changed. 'It is very recent that themes like fate, inevitability, destiny, the blessing of God, providence, have stopped being the privileged ways of explaining what happened to our nation in the past.'

[From 'The Day the World Took Off, The Roots of the Industrial Revolution' by Sally & David Dugan, Channel 4 Books 2000]