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The Nature of Economies
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The Nature of Economies

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  251 ratings  ·  31 reviews
From the revered author of the classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities comes a new book that will revolutionize the way we think about the economy.

Starting from the premise that human beings "exist wholly within nature as part of natural order in every respect," Jane Jacobs has focused her singular eye on the natural world in order to discover the fundamental m
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Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 13th 2001 by Vintage (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Anna
This book had some interesting ideas but the format was absolutely maddening. It's set up as if it is a quirky spontaneous dialogue arising from a group of friends over dinner and drinks. Although this might be cute(and actually might be a true transcript of an actually conversation, although I doubt it), it is not a very effective or convincing way to convey some fairly complex ideas about the relationship between economic and natural evolution. As in any quasi-socratic dialogue, there has to b ...more
Guy
In her forward, Jacobs writes "Readers unwilling or unable to breach a barrier that they imagine separates humankind and its works from the rest of nature will be unable to hear what this book is saying." This is, in my experience, profoundly true, and much of what passes for economic intelligence and reason is little more than ideology propped up by delimited reason and thinking. I was pleasantly surprised at how Jacobs' ideas confirmed my own observation of the paucity of true rationality and ...more
Jenn Raley
We read this book as a study group at work, and it spurred a lot of interesting conversation. Definitely worthwhile, and accessible to any reader (in terms of both reading proficiency and interest in the subject matter).

I appreciate Jane Jacobs' choice to write this book in the form of a Platonic dialogue. It just made it a lot more readable. To bring up the points and counterpoints in the voices of characters, rather than essay format, made them a little easier to follow.

That being said, I didn
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Henry
At first it seemed as though "Nature of Economies" was a direct sequel to "Systems of Survival". I had many reasons to believe this. For one, many of the characters, or Talking Heads, as I like to call them, are present. At least three of them. So I figured it would sorta pick up from where it left off, but it didn't. Actually, this book is more thematically related to "Economies of Cities" and "Cities and the Wealth of Nations", which is great. I loved those other books. What does carry over i ...more
Michael
A fairly interesting approach to writing about a certain way to view economic structures, Jacobs invents a cast of characters (named, I have to assume, after dead 18th century English folks...plus a Kate. Or maybe these are common names in contemporary Toronto - the late Jacob's adopted hometown? I dunno.) in a series of dialogues, or rather, politely interrupted monologues offered up by some cat named Hiram to the perpetuity potentially offered by Armbruster's tape recorder (yeah, really). Oste ...more
Sheltondeverell
I liked this book. This is a theoretical book set in the form of a dialogue between friends. Hiram the ecologist argues that the same rules that apply to nature apply to economics with Hortense, Armbruster, Kate and Murray. Although the characters' names are not important they lend a cheerfulness to an otherwise profound set of (injunctive) observations.

I found the parallels she draws very insightful, and persuasive. Now it seems obvious that economies evolve variations from generalities into m
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Nick Klagge
I had high hopes for this book initially, but found it pretty uninspiring. First and foremost, the "dialogue" format seems extremely contrived and doesn't feel like it helps to advance the arguments at all. There are so many characters (maybe 6?) and I never really developed a sense of differing personalities among them.

As for Jacobs' ideas about economies, they seem reasonable enough, as far as they go--mostly treating economics through the lens of ecology. I often enjoy reading non-economist
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Marco
Some interesting insights into complex systems and spontaneous order in Economics, presented in a format that prevents The Nature of Economies from being an interesting read. Even so, a reader unfamiliar with either Economics or Complex Systems Science may learn something useful from this book.
Elizabeth
Ms. Jacobs' book has some interesting ideas that made me think about economics in a different light. For that intellectual contribution, she gets 4 stars. Still, this book would be a hard one to recommend to a casual reader, as the dialogue discussing those ideas was sometimes dry and unrealistic. Also, I would have liked a little more ecology/science in the discussion. I'm still a little flabbergasted that she never once mentioned the concept of entropy in the book.
Trisha
Aug 13, 2008 Trisha rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trisha by: Gaye Burpee
This book proves that economics is a beautiful, vital subject, not "the dismal science". It is a creative vision of the native beauty of a well-functioning market economy. It also addresses some common economic thinking of the last few decades and its practical impact on developing economies. (Particularly interesting is the author's take on Latin American economies and the World Bank's focus on agricultural exports in the 1980s.)
Ginna
Apr 21, 2008 Ginna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ginna by: NPR
I left this book in an airplane seatback pocket a couple of years ago. Enjoying it as I reread the first few chapters.
The character driven approach really worked for me to put together the strands of that I think is a fairly intricate economic/ecological theory. I enjoyed the narrative, thin as it was, and feel that I'm looking at the world in a different way -- seeing even more interrelatedness & value in diversity.
Libby
Liked it. Don't think I've fully digested some of her proposed theories yet, but there's time. At the least I learned how redwoods grow so tall!
p. 108 "All those investigations would have been more fruitful than theories about how economies should work, or might work, or could be manipulated into how they should or might work - instead of learning how they do work. What a waste."
Stephen Wong
Import stretching anyone? The singular insight I derive from the book is about how anxious human economies should be the farther away they are from animal existence. This anxiety around habitat destruction versus habits of easing off on the economic progress at all costs treadmill is useful -- whether or not consciousness of parasite-host symbiosis exists.
Seth Galbraith
Apr 13, 2008 Seth Galbraith rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone (this means YOU)
Recommended to Seth by: B. F. Galbraith
Everybody reads Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival and never gets around to reading The Nature of Economies. Don't be like them. Read this book.

Although the characters are less colorful and their actions less exciting than the first book, let's pretend that we are reading these dialogs for the ideas as well as the action.
Tim Weakley
While it features a fair number of interesting ideas and topics, this book left a lot to be desired for me because it was done in a platonic dialogue. If you're looking for a scientific examination of the questions asked this is not the book. If you want "gee whiz...what about if we do this?"...then here you go.
Nancy
I have to admit, I gave up on this book. It requires a lot of thinking and I didn't have time to give it what it deserves before the library demanded I return it. I read the first few chapters/conversations and I'm entirely intrigued. No economics background required, just some brain space and time to digest!
David
Honesty requires me to revise the number of stars down to one, and to move this to the booooo-ring shelf. I still would like to read her book about cities, but this one was a yawnfest from beginning to end. That device of putting assorted arguments into the mouths of invented characters soooooo doesn't work.
Jim Talbott
Though not as good as her earlier book on the economy of cities and no where near her classic "Life and Death of Great American Cities," I found her discussion to be thought provoking. I can quibble with some minor generalizations that I disagreed with, but her framework illuminates more than it obscures.
Meg
Only 3 stars likely because I am in a fiction part of my life. The painless, easy to read info on economic systems kept me going and I hope to pick this up again and really finish it. Jane Jacobs is a recommended author by me. I'd like to meet her.
kate
Nov 20, 2008 kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
this is one of the best books i have ever read. jane jacobs sets up a platonic dialogue between four fictional people to discuss how economic systems mirror natural systems. ANYTHING HUMAN IS NATURAL. it's a book that i want everyone to read.
Art Costa
Jacobs through a masterful technique of dialog demonstrates her versatility in explaining the core principles of natural economies. It reinforces her deep understanding and provides a benchmark of what a vibrant economy is and isn't. Brilliant!!
Michelle
It was an interesting viewpoint, and supposedly, a very influential book in the 1970's when it was written. I just couldn't finish it. Probably a better read for someone without a background in traditional economics.
Shirley
BRILLIANT. My first look into systems thinking and of the link between none other than the link between nature and economies no,not from a CSR perspective... but rather behaviorally.
Ben
The ideas in this book are easily worth 5 stars, but the stiff and boring dialogue imposed on it hurt the delivery severely.
Genevieve
Jacobs links economies to the natural world. It's written as a conversation between different characters.
Ilona
I've enjoyed other Jacobs books I've read, but I found this one contrived and, worse, very tedious.
Michael
well, Jane is great. and the writing style is a beautiful way to tell the story, i love it!
Kim Housh
I was frequently more interested in the notes compared to the conversation.
Sarah Jazmine
The human economy is a part of nature and fits within it.
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Jane Jacobs, OC, O.Ont (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American-born Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. The book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to inf ...more
More about Jane Jacobs...
The Death and Life of Great American Cities The Economy of Cities Dark Age Ahead Cities and the Wealth of Nations Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics

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“Development isn't a collection of things but rather a process that yields things. Not knowing this, governments, their development and aid agencies, the World Bank, and much of the public put faith in a fallacious 'Thing Theory' of development. The Thing Theory supposes that development is the result of possessing things such as factories, dams, schools, tractors, whatever- often bunches of things subsumed under the category of infrastructure.

To suppose that things, per se, are sufficient to produce development creates false expectations and futilities.”
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