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Cities and the Wealth of Nations

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  553 ratings  ·  46 reviews
"Learned, iconoclastic and exciting...Jacobs' diagnosis of the decay of cities in an increasingly integrated world economy is on the mark."—New York Times Book Review

"Jacobs' book is inspired, idiosyncratic and personal...It is written with verve and humor; for a work of embattled theory, it is wonderfully concrete, and its leaps are breathtaking."—Los Angeles Times

"Not on
Mass Market Paperback, 257 pages
Published March 12th 1985 by Vintage (first published March 12th 1984)
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Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I haven't read this book in almost ten years, but I love Jane Jacobs. She's one of my heroes. However, I'm not sure where I stand with this book. Economically, I get the sense that she's right, but I don't know any 'serious' economist who has taken up her challenge. On the other hand, this should be a bible for libertarians, and if there's one (current) ideology I despise, it's libertarianism, especially fiscal libertarianism.

Jacobs roughly argues that the problem with economics is that it focus
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The first I heard of Jane Jacobs was in 1986, while I was working as a user test analyst at the Insurance Corporation of B.C. I had coffee one day with a coworker who, it turned out, had a degree in economics. We got talking about economic issues and he mentioned Jane Jacobs.

"She's really good," he said. "Cities and the Wealth of Nations. You should read that."

I picked up a copy of the Vintage paperback, read it, and loved it. I admired everything about it: the simple, practical, and persuasive
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: multiple-reads
This is an unbelievably important book for anyone critical of current economic practice. Jacobs gives a counter-intuitive but absolutely compelling argument as to why the great cities of the world are falling into decline. And that is that they are subjected to a common currency. Jacobs' arguments are lucid, comprehendible, reasonable, and fly in the face of just about every economic truism that the corporate media throws at its readers and viewers. A must read for anyone seriously interested in ...more
Jon Cox
It took me a while to get through this book because it is a serious and direct explanation of economic processes at work in the world. It is well written, but a bit dry simply because of the nature of the topic (obviously I'm not an economist). However, there are some very important implications to the theory that Jane Jacobs describes, one of which being the terrible damage that our past and current politicians are doing to the economy out of ignorance. I'm not an economist, so I don't know wha ...more
Jan 21, 2021 rated it liked it
The central thesis here is that cities should be looked at as the main drivers of economic activity, and so looking at macroeconomics through the lens of nations is not only backwards but actively harmful, and frankly, she makes a very compelling case. I was already inclined to favor more localized/diversified economies, and it was nice to get facts, figures, and anecdotes to support that belief.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a massive blindspot that Jacobs has when it comes to the developme
Mad Hab
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on economic developement!
Elias Rieger
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jane Jacobs is well known for her revolutionary ideas about city planning, but her later books on economics might be even more groundbreaking. Nonetheless, to this day, they remain relatively ignored by popular economists. It is a shame, because many of the topics she discusses in 'Cities and the Wealth of Nations' seem to fill large gaps that exist in modern macroeconomic theory.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities are both prerequisite to this book, as they lay
Perez Malone
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: city folk and people who like local things
Shelves: own
The idea that cities are the main economic unit is intriguing and argued well. I cannot critique the argument though as I know so little about econmics. Still, it made sense for the most part. The organization in the book is usually good though I was at times annoyed by her sentence structure.

The book is rather dated (what will become of those Soviets?) but sounds remarkably fresh in the context of the "buy local" movment. This book and Jacobs' ideas should be adopted by those who are dedicated
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: city folk and people who like local things
Shelves: own
The idea that cities are the main economic unit is intriguing and argued well. I cannot critique the argument though as I know so little about econmics. Still, it made sense for the most part. The organization in the book is usually good though I was at times annoyed by her sentence structure.

The book is rather dated (what will become of those Soviets?) but sounds remarkably fresh in the context of the "buy local" movment. This book and Jacobs' ideas should be adopted by those who are dedicated
Nov 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Please read this book.

This came recommended to me by the president of my company. Jacobs realigns our thinking about economics when we focus on states and national economy. It was written about 20 years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before USSR became Russia + some other countries, before Yugoslavia broke up, before the EU, before NAFTA. Before globalization. I think she would have had some fun things to say about that, because economics moved in exactly the opposite direction that s
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Much more literary (and literate) than most books in the economics genre. Its distinguishing detail is its concentration on the economics of cities in lieu of nations.

A few highlights:

Apart from the direct practical advantages of improvisation, the practice itself fosters a state of mind essential to all economic development, no matter what stage development has reached at the time. The practice of improvising, in itself, fosters delight in pulling it off successfully and, most important, faith
Aug 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: urbanists, economists, anyone interested in understanding current predicaments
It's Jane Jacobs--what else do I need to say! Okay, so everyone may not love Jacobs as much as I do, so I'll explain. Jacobs continues on the tradition of her previous books (Death and Life of Great American Cities, the Economy of Cities) and examines wealth, poverty, and ingenuity. The basic premise of the book is that cities are the fundamental economic unit, not nations as economists from Adam Smith on have assumed. This assumption may seem trivial unless you understand how varying jurisdicti ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
aka Why a lot of Development Plans fail. Jacobs, writing in the mid 1980s, critiques cities whose wealth (too often transitory) trades the boom of economy of scale dependent on monoculture or a single industry or resource for the flexibility of a push-pull diversified regional economy. Using examples like the Volta Dam, medieval Venice, the TVA and the rust belt, she examines the dangers of failed cities and their stunted hinterlands. Interestingly, she predicted the irreversible decline of New ...more
Lauren Elizabeth
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Today the Soviet Union and the United States each predicts and anticipates the economic decline of the other. Neither will be disappointed."

This book starts with the question “Why is stagflation (the concurrent rising of both prices and unemployment) even a thing?” and goes through history to first explain why previous economic theories failed to account for it, and then why previous attempts to fix it have failed to alleviate it, and finally examines the causes of how it comes about in the fi
William Vogel
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Intelligent, insightful, and speaking almost orthogonally to the concerns of orthodox macroeconomics, this book articulates what we could well call the 'Jacobs Hypothesis:' that the basic units of macroeconomic life are the areas of economic vitality found in cities, that macroeconomic interactions are best described as trade networks between cities, rather than nations, and, as a political corollary to this hypothesis, that the Westphalian state is at best a hanger-on to, and more generally a p ...more
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: readthisyear
Jane Jacobs loves cities. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written in the Sixties, she blasted urban-redesign efforts that were based on the assumption that people actually didn't like cities and would prefer to live in the country -- millions of city-dwellers to the contrary. In "Cities and the Wealth of Nations", she argues that the misunderstanding of what makes cities great extends to a national level. She says that macroeconomists have misunderstood for centuries that all t ...more
Mar 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Jacobs challenges the paradigm of the nation as the most appropriate unit of organization for economies, and promotes that of the city or city region.

A compelling case for city-states as a primary basis for economic life. Her arguments about 'transactions of decline' (Chapter 12) and the idea of an 'esthetics of drift' (Chapter 14) especially resonated with me.

Maybe Obama--instead mythologizing the importance of being one nation--should be advocating for a continent of multiple sovereignties tha
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a paradigm expanding book. Jane Jacobs has brought together insightful observation and research, history, and economics together which recommend theories of economy for nations, regions, and cities. She provides numerous examples of what works, and what doesn't, in various efforts of economic development. This book shatters many other theories of economics in a very convincing way. It also shatters our notion of what nations should and shouldn't be.

For anyone with even a remote interest
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a well written, engaging, though occasionally dry book. It is worth reading because of the unique perspective it gives in relation to nations, cities, economic output, and trade. Jacobs is undoubtedly the greatest prophet for cities. I am not entirely convinced by her argument, but at least it is original.
My only real complaint is that her prescription for economic stagnation is politically impossible, something she acknowledges. It gives the book a feeling of unending pessimism; our des
Dec 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Basically makes the argument that cities, not states and nations, are the main economic engine.

Not sure how Jacobs' work is regarded outside of "Death and Life of Great American Cities," and I'm also not informed enough to comment on them with any credibility.

Still, I love the way her books make me think about cities. Her enthusiasm for cities, even in writing on economics, is really great.
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book really shook up my conception of economies which seemed a good thing considering how ineffectual mainstream economic theories have show themselves as of late. I tended to agree with Jacobs' argument that cities, not nations, are center of economic life and the key to understanding economics. She argued the case well and didn't offer easy solutions to the complex problems she described. I'd be interested to see her theory put to how in depth economic study. ...more
steve jacobs
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
An interesting and compelling defence of cities as the necessary (and only) level of economy and society. Published in 1984, some of the book's examples (the USSR, a New York City in what seems to be an irrevocable downward spiral...), but many of its theories not only apply, but are quite convincing. ...more
Oct 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Jacobs argues that the success of homegrown industries and the failure of top-down macroeconomic policies is due to the personality of the city. A city must have the will to grow and not simply to import the goods and satellite industries of another power center. The growth of these cities are responsible for the economic position of the nation. Another argument that gives a planner pause.
May 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
It was pretty dry, written in an economist's vocabulary, with the basic premise that the only economic unit that functioned well was a city-region, a city with it's surrounding industry and agriculture. She thought that nations were too large for the chaotic improvisation of capitalism to function. And forget about planned economies.
May 11, 2008 rated it liked it
This book's now a little dated, but its core ideas -- that wealth is largely created by innovation in cities (well, metropolitan areas in the current terminology) and that certain types of subsidy policies can decrease overall economic utility -- may have been expressed first or most clearly here. ...more
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
An extremely interesting thesis. Her arguments carry a lot of weight, and the examples she uses provide ample support for her theories. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in regional economic development.
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I'm a geek sometimes and when I like the way an author writes, I enjoy seeing how their mind works and extrapolates on a topic. ...more
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
-One thing we do know by now because events have rubbed our faces in it: it would be rash to suppose that macro-economics, as it stands today, has useful guidance for us.-
Aug 04, 2012 added it
This is a must read for our current economic situation. Written in 1984 with solutions for today. This book discusses how to put cities back at the center of economies and get local control to work.
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Essential reading for any armchair economist (aren't we all) and lays the groundwork for the modern, borderless economy that we have today. Short and pithy. ...more
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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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“he thought of development as a collection of things for producing, not as a process of change. The process itself was something he could not buy, nor Western Europe sell.” 0 likes
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