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The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
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The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

(Princeton Economic History of the Western World)

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,162 ratings  ·  175 reviews

In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 grew from forty-five to seve

Kindle Edition, 784 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Princeton University Press
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Shirley I'd make sure that you have read introductory micro and macro-economic material, and, at minimum, a good general history of the US before starting in…moreI'd make sure that you have read introductory micro and macro-economic material, and, at minimum, a good general history of the US before starting in on this. The portions I've read so far are pretty detailed. You'll get more out it with some background knowledge first. (less)
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4.16  · 
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 ·  1,162 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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The other day, I was rereading parts of Hunter S. Thompson's reporting on the 1972 election, as some inspiration for thinking about the present one. Near the end, he talked about the "high-water mark" of history, and where you could see the exact point all of the dream of progress started to roll back.

Robert Gordon would agree. His focus is more economic history than political journalism, but he says that the year 1970 signifies the end of the 'Special Century' of unparalleled economic growth.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit worried in starting this that it might prove boring given this book is the size of a fat brick and has a title that hints at content so potentially boring that it could put a person hopped up on boatload of amphetamines running around the house worried about the murderer at their doorstep to sleep.

But nope. I thought this was totally excellent. A great and informative read, well-crafted, beautifully argued. The exploration of history, documentation of technological and economic evol
The most remarkable thing about this look at economic development in the United States since 1870 are two things: the size of the book, and the fact that it is readable. While size and subject are intimidating, the writing style is friendly and accessible, even to non-economists, and one comes to see the advantages of having all this information in one book rather than in several. Published in 2016 by Princeton University Press, this work must be a source of pride among those who worked on it. I ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an economic history of the "American Standard of Living" from 1870 to 2010. It is hard to concisely list the hesitations that came to mind in tackling a substantial book that had this agenda on offer. First, what is meant by "economic history"? How does it balance economics and history? How do data issues fit in? What kind of analysis is provided? Lots of data analysis and modeling? Is there a grand narrative? Second, what is meant by the "American Standard of Living"? I can look up ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is just not very good. I was excited to read The Rise and Fall of American Growth; it was extensively and positively reviewed and it promised to illuminate an important topic by giving extended, specific analysis. In particular, I wanted to learn about changes in productivity over time. Instead, I first got an interminable, plodding exposition, which repeated commonly known facts ad nauseum for its first 600 pages. But I soldiered on, knowing that the last 100 pages were analysis of cu ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
The author had me at indoor toilets. Our standard and quality of life have gotten better since 1870. Any improvement to the quality of today's toilets dwarfs in comparison to the initial move from the privy to today's homes with running water and our other standard utilities. As the author quoted someone saying, "the best thing is to have God in your heart, the next best thing is to have electricity in your home".

I don't think there was one trend or quality of life improvement that the author sp
this is a big ass book.....
Jonathan Finegold
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
In almost every way, this is a 5-star book.

Why did I give it 4 stars?

Let's start with why this book is a must-read. Gordon challenged many of my priors, but he presents extremely persuasive evidence and arguments for the idea that the century between 1870 and 1970 was one-of-a-kind and probably not reproducible any time soon.

The argument is incredibly important because it ought to shape our expectations for what the world will look like in 20 to 50 years. And that is a world that won't be very m
Scottsdale Public Library
Robert Gordon details the revolutionary changes, inventions and discoveries, which greatly improved the American standards of living, the benefits of which, we still enjoy today. It tells the fascinating and in depth story of how people’s lives have transformed tremendously after the Civil War through the Industrial Revolution. Did you know that the streets used to be filled with literally tons of horse manure (and dead horses!) before the advent of the automobile? Or that when the refrigerated ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Behemoth of a book. Literally put dents in my chest, which wasn't cool. First take away is that it's extremely well researched and thorough.

Part I
The focus in Part I are products that once invented, create a storm of other inventions required to work around the first major advancement, in turn drastically improving the standard of living. His main direction revolve around this last point, that certain inventions drastically improved the lives of ordinary people. Inventions that improve people's
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very extensively researched book. Gordon had combed through data stretching from the American Civil War period to the present age, to look at the rate of American economic growth. His conclusion, the best period is over, because the biggest transformation of modern life, such as electricity, clean water and sewage, railroads, automobiles, education and health care, had already happened and they can only happen once.

From his calculation, growth for the next few decades will be very slo
The premise for this book is GREAT. Following history through growth of progress and innovation is a wonderful idea but the story begins to drag through the repetitive phrases to describe the innovations.
Nick Klagge
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This is an excellent book, and I fell into the trap of waiting a long time to write my GR review because I wanted to write a really good one, and now the book has receded in my memory a bit (and I didn't take good notes). However! It was a good enough book that I still have a pretty strong picture of the arguments in it.

Although Gordon doesn't phrase it as such, the main thing I think he is fighting against in this book is the assumption that the economy is an ergodic system. Roughly speaking, t
Joseph Stieb
This beastly but essential book covers the revolution in the American standard of living between 1870 and 1940 and its impact on economic growth. It begins with one of my favorite economic history quotes: "Around 10,000 C.E., agriculture was invented. For the next 11,800 years, nothing happened." Then there was the Industrial Revolution. The focus of this book is how a variety of innovations between 1870 and 1940 utterly transformed the daily life and standard of living of virtually all American ...more
This author never seems to have met a piece of information he didn't want to include in his gargantuan book. The advancement of the humble calculator? You got four pages of it! AIDS? Yup! Jello? Uh-huh! How about tables, graphs and figures explained to its minutest point -- as if there wasn't, you know, an actual table, graph or figure there. Like a 'random facts friend', it's best to just treat it like an encyclopedia -- one in which you look for specific information -- rather than try to absor ...more
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thorough and fascinating. Basically, Picketty's Capital with examples. I think I don't fully agree that it is knowable whether we have game changing discoveries yet to come. Though I am convinced that it is unlikely.
Brian Lutz

I have to help you understand:

This is 47 years worth of a man's life.

It is, conclusively, a summarization of what Robert Gordon has accomplished academically over the course of his life.

In that respect, it is monumental.
Ailith Twinning
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 2019
TL;DR -- You see how much I thought just reading this thing? Doesn't matter how good or bad it is in the end, if it makes you think that much, it's worth reading. Plato's Republic is a terrible idea, but reading it can teach you a lot about yourself and your country. Totally recommend this.


It's at least twice as long as it has any excuse to be. Especially due to frequent repetition, where most of the book just drives home how big a deal electricity/water/gas, roads, and most of all, r
Haaris Mateen
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly exacting read, Robert Gordon does a remarkable job in chronicling the economic history of the American economy from 1870 onwards. In an age marked by the optimism of a Yuval Noah Harari, Gordon belongs to the other side - his unnerving conclusion after exhaustive (often very dry) analysis is that the growth and increase in prosperity that the US saw between 1870-1970 is most likely not to be repeated, at least for decades to come. Why? Simply put, the argument is that the changes br ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Like many other dense economic works, The Rise and Fall of American Growth was at times a slog to get through and utilizes plenty of graphs and discussions of methodology which might put off the layman. This is a shame because it's underlying thesis, and the evidence it presents for it is important to the future of the United States, and given the US' relative power and importance in a global context, to the World.

In short, Gordon's thesis is this; The period of Rapid American growth, starting i
John  Mihelic
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm of two minds about Robert Gordon's thesis that growth is decelerating because we grabbed all the low-having technological fruit. I want him to be right because I'm afraid if growth accelerates, we don't have the political will to make policy choices that benefit the whole of the population. Any growth will be captured by the owners of capital and the masses will be in the same boat they've always been in. I suppose this is true even with low growth - it is a political question. I want him to ...more
Nadia Rayhanna
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book shows some evidences and explanation on productivity rise and decline in the USA since 1870s. It takes into account some historical milestones in the US history, such as the Civil War, the World War 2, and the Great Depression, to show how these important events had changed the way people interacted with technology and their way of living (hence the way the economy worked). It mentions all kinds of technological inventions which have had some contribution in rising productivity. In the ...more
Mitch Anderson
I don't think I've ever read so much about so little. This book goes beyond the minutiae of commonplace knowledge and attempts to cover it all up with a smattering of percent signs, a few graphics, and by offering absolutely no discernible structure to any of it. If you have any idea why the 1940's saw so much economic action for the US, you won't find anything new in this monstrous Tome of the Obvious.

I gave two stars for the two semi-interesting tidbits of historical trivia that I'll be reciti
This book is about the historical standard of living in the US. Required reading for EH. But the topic is far from where my interests lay.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
In spite of all that is claimed about how fast things are changing today and how much new knowledge is created, I have always thought my grandfather, who was born in 1895 and died in 1985 lived through more earth-shaking changes than any other generation. He saw the beginning of automobiles, the airplane, and man walking on the moon. Now, Gordon’s book provides the proof that the century from 1870 to 1970 experienced an unprecedented and non-repeatable revolution in many aspects of life.

Graeme Roberts
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a masterpiece! The book of my dreams.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Gordon's "The Rise and Fall of American Growth" is an impressively researched, well-documented economic history of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century US. He argues that the period from 1870 to 1970 was truly a period of unprecedented economic and technological revolution, radically altering the practices of daily life. He discusses how the various inventions and innovations of this era (most notably, electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book should be required reading for everyone! Or, they should make a documentary in case one doesn't have time to slog through 700+ pages. The book chronicles how Americans lived, down to the detail, from prior to 1870, and then up to present day. If nothing else, it is a fascinating history lesson. The good ole days...not so much. 7,000 horse carcasses in the Chicago streets per year, that's about 19 dead horses per day. And the horse manure in the streets. But the plumbing issues got me e ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a memorable* scene in "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley in which he talks about "the good old days," in which a family of settlers huddles around the fireplace of their homestead out on the great plains to hear Pa read from the Bible. It sounds nice, but then Ridley then lays into this fantasy: they read by fireplace because total and impenetrable darkness falls on them at sunset; everyone is itching with lice, because the windows don't have glass; one of the girls doesn't mind the ...more
Matt Papes
This book is 650 pages and can be somewhat dry in spots. But just reading the intro to each chapter and the conclusion of each chapter I am confident will deliver the following as expressed by Paul Krugman who reviewed the book recently in the NYT Book Review:

"Is he right? [that we may not see the economic growth in the future that we have in the past] My answer is a definite maybe. But whether or not you end up agreeing with Gordon’s thesis, this is a book well worth reading — a magisterial co
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