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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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  3,105 ratings  ·  175 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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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 07, 2010 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 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)
Apr 28, 2010 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
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history
This was a great read, though I am aware of the controversial content of this book, in view of the "Great Divergence"-debate. See my elaborate review in my Sense-of-History-account: ...more
Unapologetically Eurocentric Treatise on the Cultural Factors that Fueled the Industrial Revolution in England and the Dominance of Europe Until WWII, and the Reasons Why This Has Not Happened in Some Other Nations
This is a big, ambitious, opinionated, contentious, erudite, and detail-filled book. It's a spiritual successor to that seminal work by Adam Smith back in 1776, in many ways a modern sequel that seeks to drill down and understand why it is that there are such stark gaps in economic, po
Sense Of  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: h
Jan 22, 2012 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
May 22, 2012 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
Jan 08, 2013 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
Jun 08, 2011 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
Jul 17, 2012 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
Anurag Agrawal
Apr 25, 2012 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
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
Perhaps the finest book of its type I have ever encountered. A huge education to any reader and hugely readable.
Jan 10, 2015 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.
General Greysorrow
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
My initial impressions are that the author is ridiculously Anglo-centric and also ardently anti-socialist...and thus believes that the only methods for economic success are to adopt British industrial practices whilst eschewing anything to do with labor, trade unions, or economic equivalency. Although, to be fair, he does give some lip-service to oppose extravagantly wasteful wealth...but only insofar as stating that those who possess it are usually bad because they don't invest it, they only sp ...more
Lucas Amorim
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I can't say I enjoyed this book. To start, his style of writing is one of the worst I've come across... It bordered on scatterbrained sometimes, with painful phraseology and jumps to unconnected ideas. I felt annoyed more than once feeling like he hadn't given enough argument or evidence to support his highly opinionated conclusions. As Nietzsche wisely put it: "Conviction is a greater enemy to truth than lies." ...more
Claudiu Constantin
A lot of information on why some countries are rich and some are poor. The book has many references to other works on the subject, this is very valuable.
Ken Muldrew
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes tries to answer the question of why some nations are so rich and some are so poor (as well as why this pattern persists). And, make no mistake, he does answer this question; thoroughly and confidently with a bluntness that is becoming ever more rare with the modern, highly sympathetic view of other cultures. His thesis appears blunt because Landes is emphatic that when it comes to wealth, culture matters a great deal. Geography also matters, as ...more
Jan 06, 2014 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
Feb 03, 2016 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
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, economics
A best-selling exploration of why some nations achieve economic success while others don’t. As you can imagine, it’s complicated.
Mike Steinborn
Sep 01, 2013 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 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
Feb 07, 2008 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
deleted d
Oct 22, 2014 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
Anna S.
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
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ultramarathon read, but liked the author's take on factors influencing economies of different countries. Most of his analysis is fascinating and as is with most history/anthropology books, hard to prove/disprove conclusively. Albeit, the fact that technical knowledge is the single most important wealth for a nation is hard to dispute. Wish some of the current Governments of the world (esp Aus/NZ) would understand this. ...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.” 7 likes
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