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The Origin Of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics [Paperback]

Eric Beinhocker
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 April 2007

Economics is changing radically. This paradigm shift, the biggest in the field for over a century, will have profound implications for business, government and society for decades to come.

In this groundbreaking book, economic thinker and writer Eric Beinhocker surveys the cutting-edge ideas of the leading economists, physicists, biologists and cognitive scientists who are fundamentally reshaping economics, and brings their work alive for a broad audience.

These researchers argue that the economy is a 'complex adaptive system', more akin to the brain, the internet or an ecosystem than to the static picture of economic systems portrayed by traditional theory. They claim it is the evolutionary process of differentiation, selection and amplification, acting on designs for technologies, social institutions and businesses that drives growth in the economy over time. If Adam Smith provided the inspiration for economics in the twentieth century, it is Charles Darwin who is providing it in the twenty-first.

If we can understand how evolution creates wealth, then we can better answer the question 'How can we create more wealth for the benefit of individuals, businesses and society?' Beinhocker shows how 'Complexity Economics' turns conventional wisdom on its head in areas such as business strategy, the design of organisations, the workings of stock markets and public policy.

As sweeping in scope as its title, The Origin of Wealth is a landmark book that shatters orthodox economic theory, and will rewire our thinking about how we came to be here - and where we are going.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Business (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712676619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712676618
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"... A brilliant, thought-provoking and wide-ranging book ... anybody interested in understanding why we are where we are should read it. For me, it was more than the business book of 2006; it was the book of 2006" (Martin Wolf Financial Times)

"Beinhocker is nothing if not ambitious" (Sir Howard Davies, director of The LSE The Times Higher Educational Supplement)

"An absorbing survey...[a] tour de force" (James Pressley Bloomberg)

"Economic thinking has changed radically in the last fifteen years.Eric Beinhocker gives us a sparkling tour of the new ideas." (Professor W. Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute)

"For business readers and academics, Beinhocker is a zealous and able guide" (Publishers Weekly)

Book Description

'Unquestionably the most important business book of the year.' - Management Today

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping reading and a page turner. Really! 23 May 2011
By ConBrio
The title hardly does justice to the richness of the topics he covers, and the brilliance and clarity of the writing. I found myself on a train at midnight reading avidly, jumping ahead, going back - excited at what he uncovered for me. I am not an economist, my interests are sustainability, anthropology and behaviour, and nevertheless this book is a fantastic invitation to understand complex systems and the economy. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

You'll never read a newspaper the same way again.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
It is hard to understand why in the beginning of 2008 no economist is able to figure out what to do about the financial chaos starting with the sub-prime disaster. If you have read this book you will underst better why it is a chaos and why nobody has any answers. The economy is a complex system, that is chaotic, and anybody that claims to be able to predict what will happen will only be right by luck.
What did I learn from this book? Do not trust anybody that makes a prediction about a complex system. The idea of economic equilibrium in an economic system is absolute nonsense. There is still some hope. Whilst there are no states of equilibrium the changes are not random. It is not total chaos. The economic system like other complex systems has "emergent properties", like periods with wild gyrations and quieter periods. One can hope that with future research one can find out something useful about the causes of these emergent properties, as the basis for policy making.
Evolution is also a complex system. Organisms change at random due to genetic mutations. The mutations that survive and win, fit best in the environment. It is not the survival of the fittest, the one that fights the hardest; it is the random mutation that thrives best in the current environment. This contains an important lesson for business, may be even for competing economic systems. In the longer term wealth in business is created by innovation (these are the equivalent of mutations). Most successful companies fail to innovate because they only focus on improving their products, like more performance, lower costs and different style. To succeed in innovation the company must in addition take the risk of investing in many mutations of which most will fail.
The book has the great merit of multi-disciplinary thinking. It brings together new thinking in economics, business, evolution and complex systems and shows how these disciplines interact and can strengthen each other.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts off well 8 Aug 2009
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This is probably worth reading for the first couple of chapters - which provide a fascinating critique of the classical economics via looking at the origin of the mathematical frameworks in nineteenth century physics. The rest of the book is far less successful; a rather lengthy and unfocussed discussion about how a new economics of complex systems would be so much better, but without saying anything substantive about what this would look like.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book that should be read 5 Dec 2013
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This is an important book that should be read by politicians, businessmen and 1st year economic students. It provides one of the best critiques regarding orthodox economics (of both the left and right varieties) that was fundamentally influenced by late 19th century Physics/Mathematics that ignores post 19th developments especially with regards to chaos theory. Adopting an `evolutionary' view of business/economics (hence the title being a mixed of Darwin's Origin of Species and Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations) Beinhocker provides an excellent framework to consider economic development. To stretched an analogy (probably to breaking point!) I see this book acting as a `John the Baptist' to some messiah who needs to produce a comprehensive up-to-date economic approach. It is certainly needed.

My only criticism is in the final paragraph where he uses the much quoted miss-quote of Mrs Thatcher "There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women, and there are families" and argues from the perspective of Complexity Economics she was wrong as it is "the interaction of millions of people, making decisions, engaging in strong reciprocal behavior, acting out their cultural norms, cooperating, competing, and going about their daily lives, creates an emergent phenomenon that we call society." I would argue the exact opposite in that if Mrs Thatcher's misquote is considered in the context of the entire interview in that there is no such thing as "Society" but to use the language of Complexity Economics that "Society" is an emergent phenomenon based on individuals. To quote from the later part her interview, "There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 1 Feb 2012
This is a great read. Full of thought provoking pieces and topics it covers a wide range of economic subject areas in an intersting manner. Stick with it and you will reeally benefit. I find myself going back to it regularly just because it's so different from other texts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and hugely relevant 15 Feb 2010
Eric Beinhofer's book is the coming together of multiple strands of thought that have danced across the sciences and into the social sciences. Drawing on much of the work from eminent thinkers such as Kauffman he describes brilliantly the flaws of classical economics, and more broadly market thinking to link up the decline of economics with the growth of complexity theory. The arguments are clearly expressed and brought to life, and the implications mapped out. Of all the books related to complexity I tihnk this is the best at putting it into a business context, marrying the richness of insight and understanding with the specific challenges within the economics sphere. An absolute must for anyone interested in economics or just how they should be thinking about business.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A supreme overview of how evolution & economic systems co-evolve
I praise this book in so many ways that I don't know where to start.
- Its profound summary of research is outstanding? Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Well writtten book
Well writtten book and suitable for those who want a different perspective about economics. The sources are very large and you can use it for academic purposes.
Published 11 months ago by George Douligeris
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good, some not so good
Firstly, I enjoyed this book. It's lengthy but never dull. And some of the experiments and examples drawn from evolutionary biology and complex systems analysis are really... Read more
Published on 7 Jan 2011 by S Gleadall
4.0 out of 5 stars Must-read
Have you been frustrated with your economics classes like most people as soon as you learned the whole theory is based on "the consumer is rational and the consumer is consistent"? Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2009 by Carl Fransman
3.0 out of 5 stars basted knowledge
This book may be quite inspiring for people with little knowledge of evolutionary theory. However its intellectual footing is weak, particularly when it refers to cognition and... Read more
Published on 14 Dec 2008 by Manuel Navarro Pastor
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical Remaking the challenge established economics
In short, the book is hugely readable and communicate a significant idea that improve on the current weakness of traditional economic and herald a new era of economics rethinking... Read more
Published on 23 Jan 2008 by Pan Tsang
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