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Betting on Lives uses the early history of life insurance to examine the economic, social, cultural and intellectual history of eighteenth-century England. Illegal almost everywhere else in Europe, life insurance in England was vigorously promoted in the three decades following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. While serving as a means of prudential risk-avoidance, life insurance also appealed strongly to the gambling instincts of England's burgeoning middling sort. Life insurance consequently provided a vehicle for gambling until 1774, when parliament forbade the making of wagers on people's deaths. In these formative years, life insurance embodied the practical aspirations of Newtonian science, the improving spirit of moral reform and the zeal of a vibrant commercial society intent on protecting against loss as it created new opportunities for investment. Betting on Lives challenges conventional accounts of the sober growth of the insurance industry and reveals the troublesome philosophical issues surrounding a business that gambled on providential outcomes.
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Geoffrey Clark is Assistant Professor of History at Emory University.
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