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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

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,059 Ratings  ·  110 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 1998)
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The Wealth of Nations by Adam SmithDas Kapital by Karl MarxThe General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard KeynesThe Road to Serfdom by Friedrich HayekThe Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
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28th out of 225 books — 324 voters
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi KleinThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Firm by John GrishamCorpalism by Arun D. EllisGlobalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Corporatocracy: Good, Bad, Truth, Fiction
24th out of 145 books — 52 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
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
Mar 15, 2010 pinaceae No rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2007 Jeff rated it really liked it
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
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Sep 18, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2011 Adil rated it it was ok
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
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
Apr 17, 2013 Ken-ichi rated it liked it
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
Anurag Agrawal
Apr 25, 2012 Anurag Agrawal rated it it was ok
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
Jan 21, 2013 Alain rated it it was ok
Shelves: society
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
Jul 09, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Reread for class.

Author's main thesis is that cultural values play an important role in whether or not a nation succeeds or fails. Some areas of his thesis are easy to ridicule, but there is a lot of meat behind the old recitations of Asians and math.

Impressive and very-well reasoned overview of historical forces (and a damning criticism of colonialism and totalitarianism), but the main omission is what to do in the near future about all this. Still a good book.

May 25, 2016 Marc rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
I am an enthusiastic supporter of outspoken, blunt opinions, even if they are expressed in very polemical terms. This is what David Landes does in this 600-page-blockbuster: without detours he formulates his views and insights, and when necessary he even outright spanks his opponents (especially anthropologists, multiculturalists, dependency theorists and supporters of the Third World in general) .
The field in which he does this is that of global history, departing from the really big question:
Perhaps the finest book of its type I have ever encountered. A huge education to any reader and hugely readable.
Nov 04, 2012 Erin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic-study
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
Mike Steinborn
Sep 22, 2013 Mike Steinborn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 07, 2013 Daniel Antal rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2012 AK rated it really liked it
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
May 25, 2008 Rex rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 16, 2014 Subowal rated it really liked it
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
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
This book is without a doubt well written, has interesting anecdotes, facts and figures and a humorous tone at times but contrary to the title, it does not explain why some nations are rich and other nations are poor. Rather it's a world economic history that deals with forces centuries, even millennium old.

For me it was a little bit disappointing. The book lacks any structures, and ping pongs from one subject to another. It left me with the feeling that David S. Landes is using this book to sho
Rosa Ramôa
Jan 06, 2016 Rosa Ramôa rated it it was amazing
"desde então (1496),a vida intelectual e científica de Portugal desceu a um abismo de intolerância,fanatismo e pureza de sangue.O declínio foi gradual.A Inquisição portuguesa foi instalada na década de 1540 e o seu primeiro auto de fé três anos depois;(...) Os portugueses esforçaram-se ao máximo em fechar-se a influências estrangeiras e heréticas.A educação formal era controlada pela Igreja,que mantinha um currículo medieval centrado na gramática,retórica e argumentação escolástica.
Através desse
Colin Priest
Oct 19, 2012 Colin Priest rated it really liked it
Shelves: smart-stuff
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.
Jan 10, 2015 Zac rated it liked it
Makes sweeping generalizations. The writer's authorial air is one of cockiness, not confidence.

I think there is a way to tie his arguments into a more coherent thesis that can better be defended.
Nov 20, 2009 Brandon rated it it was ok
Jeremiah von Kühn
Apr 25, 2014 Jeremiah von Kühn rated it really liked it
Feb 15, 2016 Ross rated it liked it
Harvard professor emeritus of history David Landes's economic history of civilization gives ample illustrations of two significant factors that help determine a nation's prosperity: its ability to adopt new technologies and innovations, and its cultural values. Through history, nations have outprospered their neighbors when they have been able to rapidly adopt innovations such as underwear, clocks, and notions of standardized parts (e.g., Ford's Model T). France was slow in adopting electricity, ...more
Tutti i matrimoni felici si assomigliano; ogni matrimonio infelice è infelice a modo suo

Una sorta di prosecuzione/risposta ad “Armi, acciaio e malattie” di J. Diamond, che individuava le condizioni necessarie per la nascita di una civilta’ e la cui mancanza costituisce un limite allo sviluppo. Senza negare tale assunto, questo testo sottolinea che in ogni caso intorno all’anno mille perlomeno tre civilizzazioni – europea, islamica e cinese - presentavano vitalita’ analoghe, e che solo con l’evol
David Oren
Oct 22, 2014 David Oren rated it really liked it
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
Mark Hartzer
Jul 16, 2014 Mark Hartzer rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 03, 2011 B rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“Where there are kings, there must be the greatest cowards. For men’s souls are enslaved and refuse to run risks readily and recklessly to increase the power of somebody else. But independent people, taking risks on their own behalf and not on behalf of others, are willing and eager to go into danger, for they themselves enjoy the prize of victory.” 3 likes
“Na Turquia otomana, o serviço de combate a incêndios estava entregue a companhias privadas que acudiam a correr quando soava o alarme. Competiam entre si e negociavam o preço com os donos da casa no próprio local. Enquanto as negociações prosseguiam, o incêndio atingia novas proporções e o que estava em jogo consumia-se. Ou propagava-se. Entre mesquinhez e ganância, muito incêndio em residência se converteu numa conflagração em massa.” 0 likes
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