Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” as Want to Read:
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  5,932 ratings  ·  618 reviews
Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published March 20th 2012 by Crown Business (first published January 1st 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Why Nations Fail by Daron AcemoğluCrony Capitalism in America by Hunter LewisGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondFree Prices Now! by Hunter LewisPoor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee
Econs For Change
1st out of 29 books — 14 voters
1984 by George OrwellGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondA People's History of the United States by Howard ZinnFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Best Books To Frame Thinking
90th out of 434 books — 347 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Randal Samstag
The book Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson comes with book-jacket praise from the usual suspects: Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame, Jared Diamond of Collapse fame, Nobel Prize “laureate” George Akerlof, and Niall Ferguson, champion of imperialism. Thomas Freidman dashed off a quick review in his New York Times column for April 1, 2012. Freidman, the giddy fan of globalization, was ecstatic, although he admitted that he was “reading” the book, but not that he had “read” i ...more
Yalman Onaran
This could be written in one chapter or a long magazine piece. Has an interesting theory, but it just goes on for too long and not worth spending the time.
Their main thesis is very interesting - that there is a strong link between political/social institutions and the economic success or failure of a nation.

Compare Botswana, which has achieved remarkable growth despite the AIDS epidemic, and Zimbabwe. Compare South Korea, which was poor, and is now a regional power, to North Korea, where the huddled skeletal masses pluck corn kernels from feces to survive while the Kim clan gorged on cognac.

The main reason states are successful, say Acemoglu and R
Such an insightful and shocking book! The examples are very well-explained, and I truly enjoyed thinking and discussing the points raised in this book. Only if more people would read this book and understand that it is not for the lack of aid to poor countries, but the very political and economical structure of the country that makes it poor.

The whole inclusive and extractive political-economical standpoint is very interesting.

The only nitpick I would comment on: the book suffers from excessiv
The hypothesis is clear very early on; what follows is an evidence-loaded journey that keeps hammering the intriguing and simple message home: that extractive, exclusive institutions wreck a country while profiting the elite who holds the power to change the institutions ; and inclusive institutions provide a country with economical growth, while on the long run providing mechanisms through which inclusive institutions are kept.

As many other reviewers have noted, they are however simplistic in p
By Pierre Briançon

The book begins in Nogales, a city divided by a fence along the border of Arizona and Mexico, and ends 450 pages later in China, with the story of a young entrepreneur arrested in 2004 for having started a large steel plant competing with the state-owned companies. In between “Why Nations Fail” is a highly readable narrative of a breathtaking trip: from the Neolithic Revolution to 16th century England, from Spain’s Philip II to Stalin, from the Mayan city-states to the Portugue
This is an excellent book about the reasons why some nations are prosperous, while others are steeped in poverty. The authors contend that some nations have "inclusive" economic and political policies. These policies give a political voice to a large segment of the population, rather than only to a small elite. As a result, a set of checks and balances tends toward a positive feedback, sometimes called a "virtuous cycle". This virtuous cycle helps to accelerate the tendencies toward inclusivenes ...more
I think the premise of this book is fantastic, and the first 50 pages were terrific. Beyond that, I was pretty disappointed by the execution.

The book is built upon the theory that it is not economic policies, but rather "institutions" (such as good governance, social norms and a strong legal system) that play the fundamental role in economic growth and development. I find this to be a compelling theory and I think it is an extremely useful framework from which to view economic and political dev
Keith Swenson
Overall: very very interesting and very important topic. I would give it 5 stars except it is very long, detailed, and not an easy read. However well worth it.

Thesis in brief: some countries are properous, and others are not. What causes the difference? Some are right next to each other and the difference in prosperity can not be explained by geography, climate, or even culture. Instead it is the system, and what is it about the system that explains the difference. They elaborate a theory that t
I could have given this book 4-stars, but I felt 3 were more appropriate in the end. I really think this book's title is a misnomer: it should be "How Nations Fail." I agree the extractive/inclusive dichotomy of political institutions is a useful and explanatory model of a country's economic success and failure. I think it explains much of how a nation/political organization fails. I also like how they point out that failure can take time, and things may look good for a time before they start go ...more
Fred R
To Acemoglu and Robinson, the economic prosperity of a nation is a direct function of its political institutions, which in turn are dependent only on historical contingencies. "Extractive" political structures create an economy only to benefit the small ruling class (and therefore are extremely hostile to the wealth-creation of creative destruction, which can only harm the interests of this ruling class. "Inclusive" political institutions, on the other hand, create incentives for large-scale pro ...more
Jeff Kelleher
A ragged and somewhat bloated masterpiece.

The core theme here is not new: sustained prosperity arises where there is pluralistic government under the rule of law. To the extent a society approaches this structure, which the authors call "inclusive," it develops inclusive--ie, open-- economic institutions, where no elite can obstruct progress. This is contrasted with "extractive" economies, stultified by political elites who repress the "creative destruction" that drives growth but threatens thei
I found this book very interesting. I found the book very satisfying in ways that "Guns, Germs and Steel" was not; countries are not poor because of initial resource conditions or ignorance on how to become more prosperous. More often, those in power create political and economic structures to secure power while sacrificing the long-term welfare of the rest of the nation, crippling a country's ability to adapt to changing conditions or use labor and resources efficiently. The book stresses the i ...more
Steven Peterson
This book explores why some nations fail and others do not. The authors lay out their thesis early on (Pages 3-4): "Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to citizens, and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities."

In the process of addres
"Why Nations Fail" is an engaging political, historical and economic analysis of civilization's development. Although the book becomes a tiny bit repetitive in stating and restating it's thesis at times, it breaks the trend by including great short bits of developmental process throughout history.

I especially liked chapter 14 "Breaking the Mold" which illustrated how countries through the entropic and contingent nature of development (here called institutional drift) break the mold and switch fr
Bill Leach
Actually, I didn't really like WNF. I believe there is real value in the concept of extractive institutions, but the book did a poor job of presenting it. In general, they spent too much time on historical illustrations (probably 80% of the book). It is very hard to extract their conclusions which are hidden away among the historical examples. Also, I felt they spent too much time branding this as extractive and that as inclusive without detailing why it is so.

Any good theory should be predictiv
Look, I'm just going to give this a full-frontal, five star review, even though in my heart of hearts I'm a tiny bit worried that there might be a bit of confirmation bias going on here. Yes, there were some omissions (I don't think Scandinavia was mentioned much) but overall, I dug the fact the authors had three or four drums that they BEAT INTO THE GROUND without ever getting tedious. International developmental agencies--hi there! Take a look at this! Understand that you can't engineer a succ ...more
This was a great and entertaining read.

The basic argument that the authors present is that the success, or failure, of a nation depends solely on the nature of its political and economic institutions, or lack of any. The argument is very compelling, and the authors spend much of the book explaining how the this theory explains the rise and fall of many nations, from the Roman empire, to the industrial revolution, and the rise of England as a global military and economic power before WWI. They a
Apr 02, 2012 Richard marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: The Interwubs
Shelves: economics, nonfiction
Your cutting-edge jargon lesson for the day is "extractive institutions" versus "inclusive institutions" .

This, from another book that looks like a must-read. Are they coming out more frequently these days?

Tidbits about it from around the web...

The authors have an extensive website at, including a bibliographic essay. You may not think so, but to me that's incredibly cool. I love trolling through annotated bibliographies, and the few and far between ones that actually discuss
A monumental economic history that touches on everything from the transformation from neolithic times, the divergence of world economies in the last five centuries, and the recent economic history. At times polemical, it effectively and convincingly presents the theory that institutions (specifically inclusive political and economic institutions) are necessary and sufficient for growth. And it effectively rebuts what it sets out as the three alternative hypotheses about the determinants of growt ...more
Acemoglu and Robinson’s central thesis isn’t hard to understand: countries with inclusive, equitable political and economic institutions tend to prosper, while those with extractive, exclusive institutions geared towards the interests of a small elite tend to languish. The authors minimize geography and culture as significant factors in the equation, pointing to nations where those realities are similar but political systems vary.

The dynamic exists, the authors maintain, because the interests of
Darren Hawkins
The book is written for a general audience, and if you're feeling smart and ambitious, it is well worth reading. It aims to be the "Guns, Germs, and Steel" of the social sciences. The thesis in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is that Geography/Climate is Destiny. Civilization arose and thrived where geography and climate endowed people with the most nutritious and easily cultivatable food. Those locations created dynamic human societies that gave rise to complex socio-political institutions, sophistica ...more
Susan Larson
Nov 03, 2012 Susan Larson rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, republicans
Recommended to Susan by: NPR
This book states an important thesis: that nations prosper when economic and political power are shared (Australia, Britain, France), and when government is centralized. They call these nations "inclusive." Nations fail when the political and economic power rests with a few alites (Congo, Russia, Latin America), or where there is no central authority at all (Somalia, Afghanistan). They call these nations "extractive."

Unfortunately, they state things over and over again. These very smart people (
Margaret Sankey
Are people in developing countries stupid, or lazy, or do the tropics just instill lassitude? In my experience, drinking palm liquor with Nigerian pirates with English lit degrees, when you live with extractive industries that carry money away and are unable to gain any kind of traction (property rights, jobs in the infrastructure, small scale banking), being a bandit or pirate or political rebel to conserve something for your immediate family is actually the smart move, and one most of us would ...more
Aaron Arnold
Maybe I'm weird, but to me it's a compliment to describe a book as reading like a well-written college textbook. Of course, this isn't a normal book - being yet another burden on the already-groaning shelves in the Why the First World Is Awesome sub-sub-genre of Big History, it's an attempt to deal with issues of development and democracy familiar to political science undergrads, and hence would fit in well on a syllabus - yet it is quite readable, if somewhat repetitious. The basic idea is stra ...more
Okay, so this government professor at Harvard (James A. Robinson) and this economics professor at MIT (Daron Acemoglu) are besties, and they wrote a book together about why some societies are democratic, egalitarian, and innovative while others are repressive and unequal. According to them, the answer doesn't lie in climate, natural resources, culture, education level, traditions, availability of accurate information, or governing skills. It has to do with economic and political institutions and ...more
Zhifei Ge
Generally, I find the book interesting and insightful to read, and above all impressive writing. The main taken-away from the book is political institutions are closely related with the prosperity of the commonwealth. The authors, Acemoglu and Robinson, list so many examples that every reader should have some knowledge to at least some of them.

Some defects about the book. Although the book is written by economists, it looks much more a history book to me. The authors seem to have concluded fuzz
Dino Go
Love the book.

What the authors have written in their book, "Why Nations Fail", is really nothing new. By making the North and South Korea examples as to why nations always fail provides a well-founded evidence that countries who are isolated and do have not provide an environment where its leaders are passionate about the welfare of their own people are always bound to fail. A nation or any organization where the people are given opportunities to take care of themselves and control their own de
I was impressed by this book on a number of fronts. First is that it contains a great deal of historical information to reinforce its central theory a lot of which is interesting in its own right.

Second the central idea of success depending on inclusive political institutions and non extractive economic ones which seems deceptively simple when first discussed is carefully shown to be a difficult and rare cycle to enter and while the cycle is self reinforcing it is not inevitable that it continu
Vinod Peris
I heard about this book in the most unlikely of places. I was at a party in Bangalore, India and got talking to an old friend about books in general. He told me about this great book that outlined a criteria for what makes nations succeed or fail and then went on to evaluate all the major countries in the world and discuss their prospects. He said that the authors were from M.I.T and Harvard, thereby getting instant credibility and added that the U.S. did not fare that well. I was hooked, and ha ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
anyone else reading this book right now 16 78 Oct 07, 2014 11:40PM  
Bill Gates didn't like the book 4 120 Nov 22, 2013 10:55AM  
  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
  • The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World
  • The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, And the Radical Remaking of Economics
  • The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
  • The Price of Inequality
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
  • This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
  • The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
  • How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region
  • More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty
  • Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
  • The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor
  • The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy
  • Development as Freedom
  • The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
  • Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy
  • End This Depression Now!
  • Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day
Daron Acemoglu is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2005 he won the prestigious John Bates Clark medal, awarded to the best economist under 40.
More about Daron Acemoğlu...
Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy Introduction to Modern Economic Growth Microeconomics Study Guide for Microeconomics NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009: Volume 24

Share This Book

“Economic institutions shape economic incentives: the incentives to become educated, to save and invest, to innovate and adopt new technologies, and so on. It is the political process that determines what economic institutions people live under, and it is the political institutions that determine how this process works.” 6 likes
“Inclusive economic and political institutions do not emerge by themselves. They are often the outcome of significant conflict between elites resisting economic growth and political change and those wishing to limit the economic and political power of existing elites.” 2 likes
More quotes…