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Essay on the Principle of Population

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  683 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Provides the original 1798 text of Malthus's classic essay together with later revisions, and collects background and source materials and supportive and critical commentaries dating from the early 1800s to the present.
Paperback, 260 pages
Published March 1st 1976 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1798)
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Alex
The basic idea of Malthus' essay is simple: humans tend to grow faster than they can create food, so at a certain point they will be unable to support themselves. There are two ways to control this: decrease birth rate (preventive checks) or increase death rate (positive checks); if the first one doesn't happen, the second inevitably will.

That general idea is so obvious that it seems hard to believe someone would have to come up with it; and, indeed, Malthus is just the guy who laid it out most
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Lotz
I’m not sure what exactly I expected from this little book. Certainly, I expected to see Malthus’s oft cited argument concerning the rate of food production vs. that of population increase (but I wondered if an entire book, however brief, could be filled on that topic). I just as certainly did not expect to meet such a charming writer and incisive thinker.

But why has this book stood the test of time? Doubtless, Malthus was wrong about every specific prediction he ventured to make. He did not fo
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Em
Malthus is a rational man, a brilliant man, but a man without a real sense of humanity. His justifications of his theory were taking humans as mere objects translated into numbers, looking on the macro side, and not even dealing with the intimate details of people, family, and community in his theory. Sort of Darwin-istic only he's taking it a step further to say hey yeah the fittest will survive and those that are unfit won't--and we should not aid them in any way. So in a way, his implication ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 22, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Good Reading: 100 Significant Books
I read this because it's listed in Good Reading's "100 Significant Books" and I found reading through that list a valuable education in itself. I found this surprisingly readable. Works on this list such as works by Kant, Spinoza, Adam Smith, can be heavy going--that's not the case here. This is very accessible, and it's short--about a hundred pages. What's more, many of its arguments are still important, still relevant. I can hear echoes of these arguments in both conservative and environmental ...more
Michael
Three stars suggests average, which is in fact almost the polar opposite of how I'd describe this book. In fact, there were some parts that I thought were brilliant, and others that made me want to be sick.

First off, it's important to note that theoretically, Malthus principal argument - that population growth can only ever be held in check by 'misery' (i.e. famine) and 'vice' (i.e. war) - has been basically undone by the advent of contraception. Nevertheless I felt this was an important book to
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John Rivera
Interesting little bit. Comes up often in sociology's conflict theory and even as a current piece to discredit concerns about overpopulation. Malthus forgot one important piece when writing this work--economic growth. Malthus assumed that food would grow at a linear rate, while population would grow at an exponential rate. Advances in farming and economic pressures for greater demand, thankfully, proved Malthus wrong.
Tarun Rattan
Malthus was among the first authors to address the perils of over population and this is a seminal book which was been quoted repeatedly by different authors in numerous economics, political history books. So I was interested in perusing the original thoughts of the author. The book is worth a read though it was written in early 17th century but the thoughts & views mentioned in the book are still relevant. The author's caution to limit overpopulation needs to be adhered by all people in res ...more
Alex Milledge
A problem we will soon face unless we start learning the virtue of condoms and constraining our desires with rationality.

My teacher commented that when he was born (in the 40's or 50's), he said the population was about 4 billion people. Sixty years later, it has almost doubled. That is astonishing. If there was no World War II, that population would surely be doubled if we account for the loss of 60 million people and their offspring of about two generations.

Malthus's doctrine is undeniably t
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Lindsey
It was interesting to finally read something that I've always heard so much about. Most of what I knew of the book was correct, and the big fallacy that is always attributed to him - the discounting of technological advance that increases the productivity of land - is omnipresent when reading the arguments.

However, I was surprised by the expression of some surprisingly liberal ideas, especially regarding women and their position in life. He both acceded that women are not of lesser intellectual
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Mike
“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight
acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power
in comparison of the second.”

With that paragraph, Thomas Malthus launched one of the most controversial arguments of the modern age. The idea that mankind will one day be so numerous that there will be insufficient sustenance. Although Malthus refused to put his money where his mouth was (namely by estimatin
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Paul Adkin


Malthus' famous reflections on demographic unsustainability become lost in this work. It seems he is more interested in putting forward liberal-democratic, nihilistic ideas, like his concluding "evil is necessary for advancement," than looking for a solution to over-population. It probably needs a second reading to see what the relationship between necessary evil and the juggernaut onslaught of a booming population have in common, and what conclusions can be drawn from such a combination. But,
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Rachel
This isn't an easy book to read although a lot of what Malthus says makes sense even if it isn't overly relevant in the modern day as we have become a lot more technologically advanced and more able to provide for the population. It is very wordy and the language is of its time which makes it difficult to understand in places. It could be a lot more direct.

It uses plenty of examples to show where the different chapters and comments apply in the real world. Some people may find Malthus's views to
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Sylvester
An Essay on The Principle of Population entailed the provocative idea of the danger of population growth. Malthus began to worry about the growing populations and he devised his ideas on why and how population growth can be damaging to the overall happiness.

However, Malthus was a physiocrat in the 18 century England. He failed to account for the growing technology that helps to multiple the foodstuff to support the growing populations. He did offered some insightful points on the nature of human
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Ravi
The English is old-fashioned and one needs to put in effort to read parts of this book. However the ideas are brilliant. Even today his observation that those who can least afford children have the most is valid. His forecast that population would doom the species have not materialised to date because technology and resources permitted the generation of larger volumes of food. As resources run dry, we now face ever increasing challenges to generate sufficient food and we are now approaching the ...more
Patrik
I enjoyed reading the first third of this famous Essay. The first seven chapters described the principles of population for which Malthus has become justifiably famous and for which economics was named the dismal science (Thomas Carlyle's term after reading Malthus), although the descriptions of these principles are so 18th century...

However the latter two thirds of his Essay were tedious as Malthus addressed books and ideas put forward by his contemporaries (usually Malthus disagreed with thei
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Tai Tai
having read the Origin of Species first, it's clear that Darwin was greatly inspired by Malthus' words. This book makes it point clear and the rest is just exploration and refutation
Cody
This is a good short read for those who are interested in historical thought in general, but especially for those who are interested in historical thought as it relates to many fields of biology (population biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, conservation biology, etc.). Malthus' essay was instrumental in shaping the thoughts of many 19th century naturalists, including Charles Darwin's "struggle for existence" that necessitated his theory of natural selection. If you are a biologist of any s ...more
Patricrk patrick
Malthus asserts a lot of stuff but doesn't provide a lot of data to back up his claims. I tend to agree with a lot of what he asserts such as men and women are not going to lose sexual attraction to each other and man is not going to become immortal (and if he did it would just make the population problem worse). He did use the 4000 year figure for the age of mankind but that was the accepted wisdom in his age. Somewhat dated but still worth reading just to know what he really said.
Chris Gould
Malthus' first edition was sheer comedy. Some of his research began with the source "it is said"...! As the editions progressed, Malthus research methods got more thorough, and he never did manage to prove that countries' populations were doubling over 25 year periods. Malthus, being a clergyman, worried about the possibility of food shortages due to overpopulation - and worried about land rubbing out. What he missed was the potential of technology to transform food production.
Chris Gunnell
While the main thesis of the book is one that is interesting and one that has seemed to have some merit (with only technological advances like the Green Revolution to buy us more time), the entire book has a very Christian-oriented tone that seems unnecessary. The ending, in general, is very focused on the problem of evil, which (while not necessarily bad) is just sort of baffling at the end of a book on economics and population. A good book, nonetheless.
Katherine
I feel like Malthus wrote this for an assignment because it was so incredibly overdone. He repeats everything at least twice and goes slightly off-topic towards the end. He makes decent points, but he really had no way to know what the future would bring in the way of advances in agriculture and industry, which made it more of a time capsule than a relevant essay.
Fred R
I'm just about the most conservative guy I know, but there are passages and ideas in this book so stunningly reactionary that I was horrified. Even so, there are flashes of pure genius. I feel that the vast implications of his insights have more to offer us even now, which is not something you can say about many 200 year old books.
Marts  (Thinker)
Malthus was a British demographer around the mid to late 1700s who believed that there is a finite population size in relation to food supply and a population increase would lead to a decline in the standards of living, war, famine, and disease this he penned in his essay on population.
James Violand
Jul 01, 2014 James Violand rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: economic students
Shelves: own
A fundamental book in Economics. We considered it to be completely invalidated by contemporary economic theory, but now Malthus is being revisited. Was he right? Pray that he wasn't or soon our food supply will cause a population calamity and prove the issue once and for all.
Alexandros Soultos
Malthus probably stands at the top of the list of essayists whose original works needn't be read. Do yourself a favour and pick up any history of economic thought instead, you will certainly find 5 or fewer pages covering all you need to know about him and his work.
Chris Maclellan
The beginning of this book was quite interesting, but the end was kinda boring. I like the main idea he presents, but thought it was flawed because it doesn't account for technological advances that increase efficiency.
Forest
A little dense, but not nearly so much as most contemporary books; this foundational population biology text can be thought-provoking and insightful, and about more topics than simply the title would indicate.
Scott Stirling
Classic, relatively brief, essay on the geometrical growth of populations and the economics of competition for resources within them.
Jenny
Very interesting. It becomes somewhat repetitive eventually, but a lot of the ideas are definitely applicable to our society today.
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“The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy hue,
but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints from a
conviction that they are really in the picture, and not from a jaundiced
eye or an inherent spleen of disposition.”
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