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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  663 ratings  ·  62 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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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
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
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
Pedro Esperanca
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is THE best history book I've ever read. The author deliciously identifies very relevant factors for economic growth which he explains rationally and historically in a very easy to absorb way. ...more
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
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!
Ami Iida
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
economics and science history
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
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
Sanjay Banerjee
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author presents his theory of why prosperity has been the engine of civilization starting from around 1820. According to him, simultaneous occurring of 4 elements are the building blocks of economic progress - property rights, scientific rationalism, capital markets and transportation/communication.

The author presents his thesis in a cogent manner. Personally for me, some of the historical insights (especially about the Western world) that he presented was also new information for me. Great
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
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.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve exhausted my interest in the topic of creation and maintenance of continuous growth and improvement but couldn’t knock this book for that. Very thorough, but streamlined compared to its peers, this book provides a framework for how the west created prosperity and this how it must be protected to continue.
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.
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! ...more
Benjamin Lim
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this. Easy to read, given the fact that it’s written by a brilliant storyteller, economic historian and writer. Go through this book alongside his other book: The Splendid Exchange. Absolutely delightful books.
Rudolph Waels
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in development economics, you need to read this.
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
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book! One of the best history/economy books around!
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What's at the core of what makes rich countries rich and poor countries poor? This book gives an amazing account of the root causes of prosperity and lack of it. ...more
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting follow-on to Guns, Germs, Steel in line with Fukuyama's perspective. Perhaps biased, but well argued and defended. ...more
Gabrielle Taylor
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this book! The book covers key principles to understanding economic success.
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an impressive book with a few flaws. Like many writers before and after, Bernstein tries to answer the question: What causes economic prosperity? Also like other writers, Bernstein concludes that technological advances cause prosperity. Then what causes innovation?

"Why Nations Fail" says it's inclusive institutions. "The Rational Optimist" says it's the freedom to trade. "Mass Flourishing" says it's individualism. "Enlightenment Now" says it's rational thinking. "Guns, Germs, and Steel"
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
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
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
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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.

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