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The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
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The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,469 ratings  ·  88 reviews
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is David S. Landes's acclaimed, best-selling exploration of one of the most contentious and hotly debated questions of our time: Why do some nations achieve economic success while others remain mired in poverty? The answer, as Landes definitively illustrates, is a complex interplay of cultural mores and historical circumstance. Rich with a...more
Paperback, 531 pages
Published May 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 1998)
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The Wealth of Nations by Adam SmithThe General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard KeynesThe Road to Serfdom by Friedrich HayekDebt by David GraeberNaked Economics by Charles Wheelan
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Community Reviews

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Paul
I had problems with this book. I drowned under Uberprofessor Landes' unceasing high-pressure hosepipe of facts and robust opinion like I was a stubborn fire he was trying to put out. Okay, I’m out. And feeling soggy too. Is there anything, anywhere, you don’t know or can’t fit into your book, Professor Landes? Huh? Okay, I thought not. I felt like a country mouse who’d wandered into Canterbury Cathedral. I felt like a pinball slamming around from Paraguay to the Ming Dynasty to the Spice Islands...more
pinaceae No
Read this book in one stint during a stay at the sea. It appealed to me on a very fundamental, nerdy level as it went deep into historic details, uprooting information that was new to me. The reader spends equal time in the main text as in the footnotes - while being challenged and entertained.

'Guns, Germs and Steel' by Jared Diamond tries to explain history by looking at environmental factors and resulting positive feedback loops. Landes agrees basically that environmental factors contribute, b...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Sep 18, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Despite the title, this isn't a book about why, say Botswana is doing so much better than Zimbabwe these days due to such and such a policy or Germany versus Greece or practical advice on how the poor countries can turn things around and the rich countries help them. It's more descriptive than prescriptive. Rather it's a world economic history that deals with forces centuries, even millennium old. I appreciated that Landes wasn't afraid to be controversial; he takes dead aim at all forms of poli...more
Ken-ichi
Culture plays a significant role in the success or failure of civilizations. Interesting thesis, right? One that might not seem so objectionable until you state it in concrete historical terms: Western civilizations have dominated the world for the last 200 years largely because of their culture. Culture is personal, so people take things like this personally: you're saying Europeans are intrinsically superior to other people? Eurocentrist! Bigot! Racist!

David Landes has been called a Eurocentri...more
Anurag Agrawal
Nice and easy encyclopaedic information of world wide economic history and that is the reason for two stars but when it comes to hang everything together in terms of causality everything is bigoted, ofcourse from western perspective. This is not exception but usually the norm of this genre where people tend to give too much importance to current moment, since when the book was written West was considered advanced plus an exception was made for Japan in terms of corelating Japanese work ethic wit...more
Alain
I was disappointed by this book. It relies a lot on anecdotical evidence and fails to reach any conclusion. After closing, I could not tell what is the main points developed by the author, the reasons why some countries are rich and others poor.
Even if sources are well documented, I also had the impression that facts have been selected to confirm the views of the author. The views developed a number of historical events seemed very partial to me.
As far as style is concerned, the book is easy a...more
Jeff
David Landes is trying to answer a similar question to that posed by Jared Diamond: Why are some countries so rich and other countries so poor? Landes comes to a much more complex answer than Diamond, and because of that I find his explanations somewhat more plausible. Landes concludes that prosperity is the result of a complicated interplay between culture, policital instituitions, and geography. Even if you disagree with any of his final explanations, I can promise that you will learn a great...more
Subowal
Some facts about the world can't be denied. Starting around the middle of the second millennium the world entered upon a phase of rapid economic growth fueled by science, technology, trade and liberal institutions. The center of this growth was Europe. Eventually the elements of growth were adopted by the rest of the world in varying degrees. The success story of Japan, East Asian Countries and above all the behemoths China and India over the last few decades shows that the principles evolved in...more
Captain
Perhaps the finest book of its type I have ever encountered. A huge education to any reader and hugely readable.
Adil
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
by David S. Landes
672 pages
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor is a book written on the history and progression of economics. This book covers six centuries long of economic analysis for dozens of countries. This book is excruciating in the amount of information you have to process in your head. I never knew the history of economics could be so stressful on the mind. There are so many d...more
Erin
I took me 8 years to read this book. That's right, 8 years. I picked it up in 2004 because it was at the top of the suggested reading list for the foreign service exam. Since then, I have been plodding through it, sometimes starting over and re-reading.

So, it must have sucked to have gone through that long undertaking, right? And I mean, would a book on world economics and political systems that came out in 1999 even be relevant anymore? Plus, I bet it was boring as hell.

Au contraire to all of...more
Mike Steinborn
Why are some nations so rich and others so poor? How did nations that were once mighty empires end up losing their position and becoming some of today’s economic backwaters? This is the issue that David Landes seeks to address in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”. While geography, climate, and the vagaries of history are factors in the equation, the greatest determinants are in fact human ones: social, cultural, political, and economic attitudes and institutions. These can stifle (and sometime...more
Daniel Antal
I really like this book, I could not put it down, I found all the episodes of a huge narrative utterly exciting. The title does not refer to a new foundation, rather to a million footnotes and examples the Adam Smith's evergreen. Simple theory, the theory of Smith's plus comparative advantage a la Ricardo, a little bit of Austrian economics and the new institutionalist school. Simple capitalist ethics, praising hard work, no political correctness for eluding those who cannot cope, equality of me...more
Anke
David S. Landes tells the long, fascinating story of wealth and power throughout the world: the creation of wealth, the paths of winners and losers, the rise and fall of nations.

He studies history as a process, attempting to understand how the world's cultures lead to - or retard - economic and military success and material achievement.

Countries of the West, Landes asserts, prospered early through the interplay of a vital, open society focused on work and knowledge, which led to increased produ...more
Mike
I read this book at a time when I was obsessed with the idea that the world did not seem to work as it should. Into my early thirties, something seemed off, but I couldn't put a name to it. Despite the usual geopolitical absurdities of the late 20th century, something just seemed illogical. And so I began a long road down the rabbit hole, determined to figure it out.
I began by looking for many of the most well-regarded tomes on modern geopolitics. What I discovered there was rather stunning. T...more
Sébastien Belliveau
This book is without a doubt well written, has interesting anecdotes, facts and figures and a humorous tone at times, which I greatly appreciated. Unlike others have stated, I did not feel drowned in a sea of numbers. For sure, there are many of them, but they tend to support an argument, rather than being an arugment in and of themselves.

My two biggest criticisms would be as follows:

1. I often joke with friends about people who will talk of Africa as if it's a country. But this book tends to do...more
Rex
The last chapter of this book--"How did we get here? Where are we going?"--should be required reading for everyone. It succinctly outlines the complexity of our economic situation. I finished the book with an increased awareness of the importance of cultivating a culture of optimism, hard work, and entrepreneurship.

The rest of the book was interesting but I felt it was written to impress colleagues rather than to convey the salient history behind the wealth and poverty of nations. Landes would...more
Anna
If you worry about mistakes you've done in life, don't be because these guys in this book have done that, big time! Either they prove the proverb 'learning by mistake' or just going 'dumber with mistakes'.

For example, when the Portuguese that hold thight into their Christianity, forced Jews scientist to be baptized, grounded astronomers like Galileo for stepping 'above divine;, limiting and cencoring imported science book. They realize that the pursuit of Christian uniformity was stupid and swa...more
Dvir
Mmm I read mainly summaries of this book since I wasn't interested in the lengthy 650pg book. It contains a few good gems and insights to why some nations got ahead while some got left behind, but it doesn't provide a clear conclusion.

I was mainly interested in the fact that countries rich in natural resources tend to become "lazy" and not productive over time.

I was also very interested in this quote: "In the pursuit of wealth, failure or success are ultimately determined from within, not impos...more
Colin Priest
One of the most eye opening books that I have ever read. Just a warning though, It is dinner party poison, I have personally found myself having to defend some of the central ideas of this book against rabidly high levels of vitriol but it still seems as spot on to me as the first time I read it. A contrarians dream.
Mark Hartzer
Way back in 1997 I read this book long before I knew about goodreads. For some reason I can't explain, i decided to read the entire thing again. Was it as good as I remembered? Were Landes' arguments still valid? YES on both counts!

This book explains with definitive arguments about why some cultures (and countries) are successful, and others are not. As they say, facts have a Liberal bias. One can have their own opinions, but one cannot have their own facts. Landes cogently explains why most of...more
Benjamin
A great book that takes a broad look at the successful and unsuccessful countries/regions of the world over the last 700 years or so. While this was not a difficult read, it was not a really engaging read either, it is simply loaded with just too much information to be a real page-turner. However, one learns a lot. The book suffered a little bit I think from very poor editing, there were many mistakes that a simple spell check would have caught, sometimes I had to re-read a simple sentence (you...more
Nick
Yowzers. I've been reading this behemoth for my non-fiction book, The Blind Giant. It's dauntingly enormous and it's about history, money, and society, so it's probably not your August beach book. On the other hand, if you're shipwrecked, you could probably build a shelter out of it as long as you know enough industrial origami. Have we established its bigness? Okay.

It is also elegantly written and hugely interesting. I was slightly in awe of it and a bit frightened by it, but actually, dipping...more
Agus
[Agus Purwanto]

Quote #1: The causes of the wealth and poverty of nations the grand object of all enquiries in Political Economy. | Malthus to Ricardo, letter of 26 January 1817

Quote #2: No new light has been thrown on the reason why poor countries are poor and rich countries are rich. | PAUL SAMUELSON, in 1976
Graziella
With the exception of a few chapters too technical for my taste, this book is a pretty fascinating read - hardly a page goes by without some light blub going off in my head. With the exception of a few sweeping lu-lu statements, plausiblities abound. His posited theories offer one set of explanations for the relative success/wealth of nations through the ages and do make help sense of seemingly unrelated, random issues and results. He highlights the history and topography encased in the DNA of a...more
Daniel Mason-D'croz
This is a good book on economic history and development. Landes looks at the importance of cultural characteristics and how they explain different countries varying economic success. At times it recalls Jared Diamond's economic and technological evolutionary ideas as well as Hungtington's Clash of Civilizations. Overall the book is very thorough trying to explain complex issues, and provides a good grounding in economic history. Nevertheless, it is not a quick read. It took me a long time (with...more
Aaron Crossen
Landes tries to weave together geography, culture and politics to figure out how the West 'won,' but the resulting latticework is not as tight as it could be, despite the author's incredible erudition. The main problem? He just tries to do too much. Geography is not destiny for every country; nor are cultural mores or political restraints at all consistent in human history, although all three play roles in determining a nation's fate. Landes can't seem to get away from homogenizing thousands of...more
Breanna Hill
Was an excellent complement to "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in explaining the more cultural components of recent (past 500 years) economic trends, and their deep causes.
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David S. Landes was a professor emeritus of economics at Harvard University and retired professor of history at George Washington University. He is the author of Revolution in Time, The Unbound Prometheus, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and Dynasties. Such works have received both praise for detailed retelling of economic history, as well as scorn on charges of blatant Eurocentrism, a charge h...more
More about David S. Landes...
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