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The Nature of Economies

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  39 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
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 13th 2001 by Vintage (first published 2000)
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Otto Lehto
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jacobs is obviously best remembered as the godmother of the contemporary Urbanist movement thanks to her The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But to ONLY remember her for that would be to sell her short. She was an interdisciplinary scholar who was actively interested in developmental economics, sociology, ethics, evolutionary biology, and complex systems theory. She wrote several interesting books and articles on those broader topics. These deserve to be read just as much as her Urbanis ...more
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.)
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
May 28, 2011 rated it liked it
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!
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 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
Jenn Raley
Aug 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
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
Nick Klagge
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
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
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Ugh. I wanted to like this book, and it probably contains some enlightening ideas, but the format was too distracting for me to really get into the concepts. It's structured as a dialogue between a group of presumably tweed-wearing intellectuals who spend their weekend afternoons discussing ecology and economics. In the bizarro universe where these events take place, the characters talk about the Internet but communicate by fax, and record their conversation via a plug-in tape recorder. The weir ...more
Henry Olders
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had tried reading this several years ago, but was so put off by the writing style (a dialogue) that I quit and gave the book away. But when I recently re-read Jacobs' books "the economy of cities" and "cities and the wealth of nations" it occurred to me that there were many similarities between evolution of organisms and the evolution of economies. Looking further into this, I came across this book and so borrowed it from the library. What I found particularly interesting was the convergence b ...more
Nov 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly good. I normally have really negative things about almost every single book on Economics I've ever read (the curse of majoring in something I suppose), but this is really really good. I could have done without the conversational fiction, and would have loved some more robust explorations of the concepts but the concepts themselves make this book a must read. Really analytical, really scientifically minded. A real gem.
Sep 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
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.
Seth Galbraith
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: urban-issues
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."
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.
Jim Talbott
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Art Costa
Mar 21, 2008 rated it liked it
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!!
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: econ
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.
Dec 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Jacobs links economies to the natural world. It's written as a conversation between different characters.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
The ideas in this book are easily worth 5 stars, but the stiff and boring dialogue imposed on it hurt the delivery severely.
Paul Roman
Jan 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: soc-org
Little too eclectic for may taste. Platonic dialogue of friends is superfluous - it doesn't add clarity nor interest.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great idea in this book! We read this book for my Environmental Ethics class, and the refreshing way that Jane Jacob looked at the reason for economic proliferation is a good rebuttal to the utilitarian point of view to environmental ethics.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mrs Jacobs is amazing! I love her insight and the fact that she's not beholden to any ideology or system of thought or any side of anything. She goes with whatever seems to her to work on any given subject namely economics. I would that more were like her.
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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

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