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The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  556 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In the tradition of Peter Bernstein's Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, comes Dr. William Bernstein's The Birth of Plenty. This newsworthy book sheds new light in the history of human progress. Bill Bernstein is no stranger to McGraw-Hill. He has written two successful investing books for us and both have exceeded expectations; The premise of Dr. Bernstein's ...more
Hardcover, 420 pages
Published March 23rd 2004 by McGraw-Hill (first published 2004)
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4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  556 ratings  ·  53 reviews


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Max Nova
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book will blow your mind. The only other book of comparable scope and depth of analysis is "The Discoverers" by Daniel J. Boorstin. In "The Birth of Plenty," Bernstein claims that "...the four factors—property rights, scientific rationalism, capital markets, and improvements in transport and communication— [are] the essential ingredients for igniting and sustaining economic growth and human progress." Three of the factors seemed quite obvious to me, but I had never before explicitly conside ...more
Robert
Feb 14, 2009 rated it really liked it

The current economic crisis afflicting the world (not just the United States) makes this an excellent moment to read and reflect on William Bernstein's superbly argued thesis about the nature of prosperity.

Using historical, economic and sociological analyses and case studies, Bernstein develops a persuasive case for four primary factors contributing to economic growth:

1) Respect for property rights and the rule of law;
2) Efficient capital markets;
3) Respect for scientific rationalism; and
4) Effe
...more
Shad
Nov 03, 2008 rated it liked it
In Alma 44, Moroni recognizes God as why the Nephites prevailed over the Lamanites(verse 3); Zerahemnah disagrees and attributes the victory to the Nephites' superior armor (verse 9). Zerahemnah's error was in identifying the how, not the why behind the Nephites' victory.

In this book, Bernstein falls into the same error as Zerahemnah - while he gives a very interesting and possibly fairly accurate account of how prosperity has come about, he completely misses the why (given Chapter 10, he is li
...more
Daniel
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
By the end of the book, you will be expert in the 4 pillars of prosperity: 1. Protection of Property Rights, 2. Scientific Way of Thinking, 3. Capital Markets and 4. Transport of goods and ideas. Bernstein had explained why countries in the West had prospered by having all these four pillars, and countries who miss any of these would not prosper as much. A well written book, best to be read with his other A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World!
Nicholas
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Birth of Plenty is potentially the most ambitious economic book that I have ever read. It attempts to explain the tremendous birth of prosperity that began roughly around 1820 and has continued unabated (in some areas of the world) into the present day. Bernstein begins with a factual observation: “True, beginning about A.D. 1000, there had been improvement in human well-being, but it was so slow and unreliable that it was not noticeable during the average person’s twenty-five-year life span ...more
Mark Isaak
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I used to wonder what was the value of studying history. It shows how things got the way they are, but does it really provide lessons (other than that we don't learn from history) that can apply in the future? This book puts any of my remaining doubts to rest. History provides the context for the study of economic history, and economic history shows what is necessary for high standards of living.

This book makes the case that the requirements for prosperity are four: Property rights, a rationalis
...more
Seb
Oct 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
Absolutely terrible book. I'm usually pretty insistent on going on even if I dislike a book, but here I couldn't make it past page 31. (Maybe it gets better later on, from my very rapid browsing probably not).

Bernstein's arguments are shallow and unoriginal and his historical research is just terrible, it seems he has never met a historical cliché he didn't like (The inquisition killing people with iron maidens? Really?!) Overall it reads like a very long high-school paper by some smart from the
...more
Dick
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I would put this book as the same caliber as “ why nation fail”. That says a lot. Similar to all the top notch book on economic history, this book provides a framework on why where and how a nation would prosper. It has very little to do with geography, natural resource or even wars. The four pillars of success: property right, intellectual rationalism, capital, transportation/communication, form a great framework to understand the past, and predict the future of a nation. This is one great read ...more
Mark
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, history
Bernstein argues that a country must have four attributes: property rights, the scientific rationalism, capital markets and an effective means of transportation to thrive and then looks at a number of countries economic performance through this lens. This book helped me understand how critical property rights (and the rule of law is) for an economy to function effectively.
Phil K
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found it a little slow to start, but once I got in I was both entertained and informed reading about the 4 ingredients that cause growth and make a country rich. Good history. Practical for policy-making. Relevant to today.
Warren Rainer
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive look at how the world's wealth has been created and the core elements required. I think it provides the reader with a broader vision of both history and the future as well as a new template with which to gauge current events. A great read!
Kathryn
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Five stars! Why do some civilizations thrive while others fail? The author applies four principles of prosperity to three levels of countries: the most successful, the second most successful, and failing countries. An intellectually challenging but approachable book. Highly recommend.
Harsh Thaker
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Look at the seeds for prosperity and factors against it.. why most countries struggle for economic miracles and why few succeed
Stevia
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book! One of the best history/economy books around!
Rudolph Waels
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in development economics, you need to read this.
Gabrielle Taylor
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this book! The book covers key principles to understanding economic success.
Stan McQueen
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book several years ago and felt it was owed a re-reading. Very interesting discussion of the influence that rule of law, property rights, scientific inquiry, good communications, and access to capital have on the poverty or prosperity of nations. When all these are in place, nations (and their people) prosper; when they are not available, nations and their people are impoverished. Author Bernstein traces, through what can be called economic archaeology, the growth of prosperity over ...more
Matt Ely
The book opens with one of the most excellent introductions possible, the root of the argument summed up in the author's statement, "First, the story-- how the world arrived at its present state-- is one of the most intrinsically absorbing that any author can tackle. If the author cannot command the reader's interest with it, he or she has no one but himself or herself to blame." In one swift move, the author has excused himself from writing a dry, meandering book.

And unfortunately, that's kind
...more
Void lon iXaarii
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's IMHO a tragedy of human society that more books/movies/games written about the conquerors and those who used violence to get/keep power (more people search/become waht's being praised) and amass wealth than those dedicated to investigating the people and processes that lead to the wealth, prosperity, health and plenty of all people. This is a book in this second category and thus already I prise it a lot. As a bonus there's a lot of things to learn and a lot of interesting historical facts. ...more
Thomas Almanza
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
This book has unparalleled research regarding the history of wealth among nations and society as a whole. It demonstrates vividly the four factors of the modern economic boom and shows how they all must be present simultaneously for wealth to spread as it began to in 1820. However, it ends tragically as the author concludes the book with the wrong philosophy on how to sustain the world's wealth by an Egalitarian world. He comes to this philosophy because his worldview was shaped by data emitted ...more
Yasser Mohammad
Apr 04, 2015 rated it liked it
The book discusses how did western Europe and the U.S. achieve their current prosperity and traces it back to the interplay of four factors that Bernstein claims never were all available in any place before in the history of humanity:
Respect of property and property rights, rule of law, efficient capital markets, respect of scientific rationalism.

I am most interested in the fourth factor. It is not claimed that scientific rationalism was not available to people before the turn of the 18th centur
...more
IA
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
10/10
This, I would argue, is the most important non-fiction book I have read as an adult.

I read Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel in high school and was both floored and inspired by his explanation of the broad strokes of world history. His explanations helped me understand why Europe colonized Africa and the America's and not the other way around. What was always nagging me, however, was why Europe also steamrolled over the middle east, China, and India in the later 2nd millennium. This boo
...more
Randy
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book for the thesis it presents -- That the four pillars of wealth creation: (1) The rational/scientific thought process, (2) Private Ownership, (3) Capital Markets, and (4) Speedy communication, were finally aligned for the world to experience a radical trajectory shift in broad based prosperity beginning around 1820 and continuing through the the current day. Bernstein's defense of this theory is interesting to read, and is presented in many cases in chronological and geographic ...more
Mike Horne
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very good book! The world changed 1820 (at least the Western world) when the growth in prosperity went from about 0% from the dawn of time to almost 2% annually. The incredible growth of the modern world (the poorest American is better off materially than the top 10% of England in 1500) is the connection of four ideas: rule of law (allowing the security of property), scientific rationalism, the ability to raise capital, and the the ability to quickly transport things and ideas. He is very persua ...more
Jay
Aug 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just finished re-reading this today and it was as good or better than my first time through it.

For anyone who stumbled onto this review because they're potentially interested in the book, my advice to you is to buy it and read it. Right now. It's absolutely fantastic, both in the sense of the information it provides and the manner/style in which that information is presented. William Bernstein is an absolute pleasure to read, I don't know anyone else who can make such a potentially dry subject
...more
Lori
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of those rare books that has changed my world view somewhat. I was always a bit of a socialist at heart, and this well researched, carefully documented book explained why universal healthcare may prove to be an entitlement overreach. I do think he gave the Internet revolution and the explosion in information technology that fueled the Internet bubble rather short shrift, but of course, it was published almost a decade ago. Ultimately, I still believe that IT and the internet will prove to be ...more
Marcus
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Bernstein book is enlightening and filled with information and myriad other organized conclusions which serve to illuminate how mankind tended to separate itself from the animal instincts of the dark ages and risen out of it with prosperity.
The book takes the reader to behind the curtains of our own lives and displays for our own benefit certain principles which the author has reason to believe, and majestically explains in its pages, are the motives for where we stand today and where we could b
...more
Martin
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finance
Bernstein makes an excellent case for the financial and philosophical requirements for a successful society. Very well researched and written, even if you aren't a financial junkie, this book will help you better understand why the world is the way it is today.

If you've read any of Bernstein's other books you'll find many familiar themes. Birth of Plenty uses common sense finance as a lens to view history and better understand why some nations are prosperous while others lag behind.
Joe Xtarr
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Bernstein perfectly blends history and finance. A real eye-opener. He lands a hard-hitting blow to all skeptics and "experts" who have come to their own (mostly incorrect) conclusions about our economic status and overall future. Easy to read and not too many heavy concepts. I came out of this book with a much better understanding and deeper appreciation for the world's financial and social standing.
Robert
Sep 26, 2008 rated it liked it
The book discusses the era of prosperity. It very narrowly defines the beginning as 1820, which for LDS followers is a significant year. The book is OK, a bit long for the subject it covers. I did like the discussion towards the end on the relative wealth difference based on original country of origin - i.e. those that descended from Great Britain faired substantially better than those from Spain/Portugal.
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Goodreads Librari...: Fix spelling, merge author 3 99 Aug 17, 2016 09:26PM  
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William J. Bernstein is an American financial theorist and neurologist. His research is in the field of modern portfolio theory and he has published books for individual investors who wish to manage their own equity portfolios. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

“Such high interest rates are prohibitive for long-term projects; at 20% per annum, the amount owed doubles in less than four years. With such a crushing future burden, no rational businessman or corporation borrows to fund a project that will not become profitable for five or ten years, as is the case with most large commercial undertakings.” 0 likes
“P. J. O’Rourke: “North Korea has a 99% literacy rate, a disciplined, hardworking society, and a $900 per capita GDP. Morocco has a 43.7% literacy rate, a society that spends all day drinking coffee and pestering tourists to buy rugs, and a $3,260 per capita GDP.”1” 0 likes
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