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The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future
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The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  292 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe, or will innovation and markets yield greater prosperity

In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom. Ehrlich, author o
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  292 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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Start your review of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future
Jeff Raymond
Closer to a 3.5.

The Bet is a long-form book about one of my favorite economic bets in history. Paul Ehrlich, doomsday economist and author of The Population Bomb, spent a significant amount of time talking about overpopulation and its impact on resources. Simon, a little-known economist who disagreed, ended up challenging Ehrlich to a bet regarding the price of five metals a decade down the line. This quickly became one of the most famous bets in history.

The book works in that it's a solid histo
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Here's my best shot at whittling down modern-day environmentalism to just six sentences:

"People ought to respect certain natural limits if we want to maintain a happy, healthy, and productive society. We can't just pollute the air endlessly or plunder the oceans freely. The good news, though, is that it's totally possible to make our modern way of life sustainable. No need to give us capitalism or economic growth. It's just that the free market alone won't get us there. We'll need regulations an
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it
This book felt like a New Yorker article, which would be a good thing, except it’s a book. Interesting, but heavy on the historical facts, people, etc. Read like a history text book. Dunno why it didn’t totally click as I love history and Econ. Needed to skim the second half to make it through.
Riley Haas
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an interesting book ostensibly about a bet between a biologist and an economist over the earth's future, but really about the problems of extremism and the folly of prediction.
I just learned about Ehrlich and Simon's best recently, as I was not yet born when it happened and child when it was over. I decided to read about the book more because I had read the bet was a mistake to begin with, rather than for any particular stake in this type of bet. The fact that the bet couldn't actually p
A solid political and intellectual environmental history about Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and the context of the bet they made. It focuses extensively on things like their biographies and presidential rhetoric around energy and conservation, with comparatively little interest in the substantive questions underlying their ideas. It's sometimes a bit boring and I'm not sure it would be of much general interest, but I found it quite useful. It provides a lot of context for things that I'd only hea ...more
Akseli Koskela
Jan 08, 2019 rated it liked it
A good overview yet I was waiting for more science and less drama.
Robert Gerlach
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some say "history is the subject that teaches us that we do not learn from history". "The Bet" is a book that shows why it is important to know the history of the environmental movement in order to understand and avoid the mistakes that have led to the current assault on environmental institutions.

Sabin describes quite entertainingly the lives of to academics on the opposite side of the spectrum, and how their well-meaning but ultimately uncompromising and flawed approaches to advocacy have hurt
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The debate over environmental responsibility replays again & again, seemingly on a 40 year loop.
More later.
I found it irritating that Ehrlich (an environmentalist misanthrope) and Simon (a free-market capitalist) were presented as the only two options available. Frankly, there is no space in the future for capitalism because capitalism is what's causing all of our environmental problems, and we will at some point have to choose between it and the biosphere. Simon just isn't interesting -- the idea that human ingenuity and free markets are one and the same is silly, creativity existed long before capi ...more
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author makes several good, and to me almost obvious, points that are not heard enough in public debates about environmental policy. Liberal elements falsely invoke the popular cache of science to support their positions even though their conclusions are based on value systems utterly independent of science. Conservatives too often refuse to admit in public that nature has intrinsic value for human appreciation and enjoyment. Both abuse the complexity of natural systems with liberals making u ...more
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Easy to read through as a book that how Ehrlich and Simon shaped the concept of the environmental future in US.
Today, obviously we admit that the overpopulation has played the biggest role of the shortage of nature resource.
Simon's thought we need to count the natural resource of the whole universe as a whole, the problem is we can barely get out of our planet, let alone survive beyond.
No doubt that we need to leave something to our next generations before it's too late. I don't think the majori
CL Chu
Oct 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Focusing largely on personalities. Why population became - and continue to be - the main focus of scientists preocuppied with 'development/growth' (and their limits/discontents) needs to be further examined in the context of 20th century intellectual histories. And probably some social studies of science approaches would be beneficial too.
Caleb Warren
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For anyone looking to understand the public influences on US environmental policy over the last 50 years, this book offers a succinct recap. It also helped me better understand the rationale behind opponents of modern day climate change reforms. (I used to just write them off as idiots)
Jon Wlasiuk
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The political debate about the future of the planet rests upon assumptions inherited from the last quarter of the twentieth century championed by Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. This is a tidy history of that debate and the damage it has wrought on conforming the economy to ecology.
Andrei Barbu
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Explains why both extreme environmentalists and free-market extremists sound crazy, how we got here, and why it's so hard to make any meaningful progress.
Jordan Conerty
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fine read if you're interested in Environmental History, particularly the conversation around population growth and responses to it that gained national attention in the 60's and 70's.
Ron Shaw
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Even-handed treatment of the famous bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Sabin bemoans the political divide that The Bet represents but, in the end, concedes that Simon was right.
Max Nova
Full review and highlights at

"The Bet" gave me a new framework for interpreting science/policy debates: Neo-Malthusians vs. Cornucopians. Once you see it, you can't stop seeing it everywhere you look. Sabin elegantly traces the intellectual lineage of this debate through the lens of the Ehrlich/Simon wager and does an excellent job of showing how their academic arguments influenced specific policymakers.

In one corner, we have Paul Ehrlich (of "The Population Bo
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Bet (2013) by Paul Sabin is a really fine book that looks at the different beliefs of the ecologist and author of The Population Bomb Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon and their famous bet on the price of natural resources.
Sabin is an academic at Yale who teaches environmental history. He introduces the book by describing his own environmentalism which is a very honest and clear way of clarifying his own biases.
The book then looks at Paul Ehrlich’s rise to fame as a prophet of doom
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
I think Sabin did a good job of maintaining neutrality toward Simon and Ehrlich throughout the novel. Additionally, he didn't really present his personal views on the topic until the final chapter. As a historian, I think he did a fairly good job of telling Simon, Erhlich and the bet's history. However, I had to force myself to keep reading. For some reason, I just found his style and writing to be like the worst of boring textbooks. I do agree with some of his final points, especially that Ehrl ...more
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Relatively evenhanded look at the environmental debates in this country over the past 50 years. The author is Yale professor Paul Sabin, wife of abortion zombie Emily Bazelon, and his bias comes out from time to time. Nevertheless, he is willing time and again to demonstrate how free-market capitalists have been right far more over the past 50 years than Chicken Little environmentalists.

The book's namesake bet was a wager between the two gentlemen in the subtitle who waged $1000 dollars on a bas
Don Angels
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is nicely written book on an importgant topic: does nature put limites on economic growth? Although the actual growth debate was/is much wider, the framing of this as a debate between Ehrlich and Simon works well. It culiminates in the bet about the price increase of 10 metals/minerals. Simon won the debate, basically because he was lucky with the decade they picked.
This book is also an insightsful story about how public debates often become polarized and eventually also not very informati
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you want to understand the modern climate change debate, read this book. It presents two of the sides of the argument and demonstrates why each has limitations both ideologically and due to the figures leading those various ideological groups. It does this in a way that is an interesting narrative and doesn't ignore factors like media attention and attention paid by policy makers, which are a significant factor in this debate. It's also fairly concise and does a good job of sticking to the su ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this mid-length book immensely. It is a solid overview of Ehrlich's rise to prominence and Simon's retort, both of their intellectual stories behind the famous wager are wrapped in the political clashes of Carter and Regan, which provide a mainstream dressing and embellishment of the core assumptions and ideas of the two men.

The author is, in my view, very even handed in sketching out the history of these two men and the wider political clashes, although it did seem to me (as a bit of
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a well written book in style and a substantive book in content. The author brings a historian's thorough explanation of the backgrounds, events, and actions of the principal players in "The Bet" - Julian Simon and Paul Erhlich. He is balanced in his analysis, for the most part, clearly works hard to be cool headed about the story because so many involved in this story are not. I think he wishes Ehrlich would be easier to support and never really pokes any holes in Simon's view. I was dis ...more
Dylan Groves
Feb 11, 2014 rated it liked it
very vanilla introduction to the ehrlich-simon debates.

limited value over a long article or author interview (sabin's econtalks interview is very good).

well constructed and easy to read.

three takeaways:

1 - ehrlich was wrong, but the main determinant of the bet was standard macro-economic fluctuations.

2 - 1970's environmentalists were pretty offensive in disregard for human life, and some modern right wing radicalism can be understood as responding to the left-wing population control radicali
Cyndie Courtney
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Cyndie by: Stevo Johnson
Shelves: non-fiction, own
This book illustrates both sides of an environmental debate that at its heart centers around 1) whether increased population in is a good thing, 2) how adaptable humans are to constrained resources, and 3) at what point our resources will give out in the face of population growth.

Really good points made by both sides, but frustrating that their polarization and dogmatism didn't allow them to combine these concepts in meaningful ways.
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of those books I wanted to give 3.5 stars ;^)

Well worth reading for young and old alike. The transformation of the "environment vs. economy" debate into, well, just that, a debate that has to have "winners" and "losers" is well worth the history lesson (for younger readers) and the review (for older ones.. like me..) It's only drawback is its short length.. but then, that's sort of its strength, too. Good for general readers, but worthy of serious readers, too.
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
An object lesson on the antifragility of punditry under conditions of consistent bias (in the statistical sense) towards extreme inaccuracy in prediction (Ehrlich). Sabin does a reasonable job of balancing (and contextualizing) the subject matter; unfortunately, he also fails to resist the historian's trap of relativizing the issues without providing a factual standard for judging the issue on the part of his readers.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, read-and-owned
The Bet and Climate of Crisis both provide comprehensive histories of US environmental laws and policy. Both authors bend over backwards to be fair and balanced. Allitt leans slightly right and Sabin slightly left, but both make the same fundamental points. Both are excellent reading for people trying to understand why environmental policy issues can be so contentious, and why we aren't making more progress on climate change.
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Paul Sabin teaches American history at Yale University. He is the author of THE BET: PAUL EHRLICH, JULIAN SIMON AND OUR GAMBLE OVER EARTH'S FUTURE (2013), and CRUDE POLITICS: THE CALIFORNIA OIL MARKET, 1900-1940 (2005). Before joining the Yale faculty, Paul served as founding executive director of the non-profit Environmental Leadership Program. He is a graduate of Yale College and the University ...more

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