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Wealth And Poverty Of Nations [Paperback]

David S. Landes
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
RRP: £15.99
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Book Description

1 April 1999

The history of nations is a history of haves and have-nots, and as we approach the millennium, the gap between rich and poor countries is widening. In this engrossing and important new work, eminent historian David Landes explores the complex, fascinating and often startling causes of the wealth and poverty of nations. The answers are found not only in the large forces at work in economies: geography, religion, the broad swings of politics, but also in the small surprising details. In Europe, the invention of spectacles doubled the working life of skilled craftsmen, and played a prominent role in the creation of articulated machines, and in China, the failure to adopt the clock fundamentally hindered economic development.

The relief of poverty is vital to the survival of us all. As David Landes brilliantly shows, the key to future success lies in understanding the lessons the past has to teach us - lessons uniquely imparted in this groundbreaking and vital book which exemplifies narrative history at its best.

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Frequently Bought Together

Wealth And Poverty Of Nations + Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years + Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (1 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349111669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349111667
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 106,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Professor David S. Landes takes an historic approach to the analysis of the distribution of wealth in this landmark study of world economics. Landes argues that the key to today's disparity between the rich and poor nations of the world stems directly from the Industrial Revolution, in which some countries made the leap to industrialisation and became fabulously rich, while other countries failed to adapt and remained poor. Why some countries were able to industrialise and others weren't has been the subject of much heated debate over the decades; climate, natural resources and geography have all been put forward as explanations--and are all brushed aside by Landes in favour of his own controversial theory: that the ability to effect an industrial revolution is dependent on certain cultural traits, without which industrialisation is impossible to sustain. Landes contrasts the characteristics of successfully industrialised nations-- work, thrift, honesty, patience and tenacity--with those of non-industrial countries, arguing that until these values are internalised by all nations, the gulf between the rich and the poor will continue to grow. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A masterpiece (Norman Stone)

One of the most important works of history to appear in my lifetime (A N Wilson)

For once, amazingly, a book lives up to the hype ... a blast of fresh air, a work of militant good sense (EVENING STANDARD)

Gripping ... well worth reading (OBSERVER)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, culture is important but... 9 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Landes' thesis is simple: culture is the key determinant of societal-level wealth. Landes does a Weberian analysis of the disparity in wealth between (mostly) The West and the Rest--a loaded topic, on which much ink has been spilled and which has engendered much chauvinism, brilliant economic insight, and the odd dash of racism. He argues that Calvinist Europe cultivated the cultural virtues that make a society wealthy: hard work, honesty, curiosity, thrift, industry and the respect for private property. According to Landes, it is no surprise that the Industrial Revolution, with its resulting increases in productivity, took place in Western Europe. Even though Islamic, Chinese and Western civilisations were at similar levels of development in the 1100s, Western Europe had pulled away from the rest by the late 1500s.

Landes further contrasts Northwestern (Protestant) Europe with Southern (Catholic) Europe. According to Landes, the discovery of the New World treasure--coupled with the Post-Tridentine Catholic Church's emphasis on simple peasant spirituality (none of all that schooling business) contrived to retard economic progress in Southern Europe and its offshoot civilisations in South America. While Spain and Portugal were busy looting the New World and praying for their souls, the Dutch and British were working hard to generate the wealth that kick-started and reinforced the Industrial Revolution. Landes also examined the rise of Japan (the best chapter of the book, in my opinion). He argues that Japan's openness to Western education, its ability to learn quickly and to mobilise popular feeling in the service of the national cause, put Japan on the road to industrialisation after the Meiji Restoration. So far so good.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, especially the first half 16 May 2007
This book gives a very fine overview of why certain countries have accumulated more wealth than others.

Another review stated wealth is not the (only) measure for success and dismisses the book for it. Landes agrees with wealth not being the sole purpose of a society, but tries in his book to make understandable just why there are differences in wealth; without judging wealth or the way it is gathered as either good or bad. That is a proper and scientific standpoint.

The book starts in prehistoric times and follows a chronological path of wealth building in various regions: Europe, US (limited), Japan, China, Middle East and Africa. Up to around 1700 his story is entertaining as well as easy to follow: the prescriptions and conditions for wealth are clear, easy to understand and still applicable today (to a certain extent).

From the industrial revolution onward, as societies grow more complex, also the book becomes more complex and the reasoning of Landes becomes harder to follow. The final chapters were for me very difficult to read through. I personally believe the complexity and intertwinedness of societies in the last century makes it increasingly hard to pinpoint what makes the difference between growth and stability.

Since the origins of wealth and of poverty should be described until recent times, also the last chapters are essential. Omitting them would be like stopping before the climax of a movie...Overall I rate this book highly, and would recommend everybody to read it, and take notes per chapter to see where and how the factors for growing wealth still apply.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The topic of economic disparity attracts more heat than light, with authors often doing less to offer insight than to saddle up hobby-horses reflecting the politics of the day. Landes steers clear of all this, possibly stepping on a few toes in his no-nonsense assertion that material wellbeing is the definitive indicator of social success; and that democratic capitalism on the American model is the benchmark of success by these standards. His mandarin style combines with a robust cast of mind to rebut explicitly (and to my mind tellingly) such tempting notions as global exploitation (our country is poor because yours is rich), or cultural equivalence (our ways are just as good as yours in our own way, could you but recognise it). This is all to the good, as is the general thrust of Landes' book, that we should look to culture for an explanation of the defining feature of the modern world: the technical and economic triumph in the modern era of Western Europe over such apparently promising rivals as China. Such an account points to an explanation (if not necessarily to policy prescriptions) for such troublesome matters as the greater success of East Asian than South Asian catch-up, or the disappointments of the Middle East, post-colonial Latin America and Africa.
Less satisfactory are a few side-swipes early on in the book at "geographical" explanations, where Landes rather lets himself down in his attempt to undermine them with the news that Harvard disbanded its geography school fifty years ago. This is no doubt true but irrelevant to the merit of the arguments. In the event, Landes need not be so sniffy, in that his arguments address the last 5-700 years, whereas the geographers (if I have properly understood the matter) look to the last 40,000. In effect, there is no contradiction, indeed a synthesis seems compelling. See "Guns, Germs and Steel", Jared Diamond, W W Norton, 1997.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars This is a kind of economic world history, and ...
This is a kind of economic world history, and the effort as such is remarkable. Therefore, I give it three stars. Read more
Published 14 days ago by The Prussian Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
An excellent view through history of trading and the politics of nations. Small print and packs a lot in so not an overnight read
Published 6 months ago by Reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Why culture makes some nations rich and others poor
Why are some nations so rich and some so poor? One usually hears a... wealth of common sense reasons which however are rather ...poor explanations! Read more
Published 12 months ago by Carno Polo
5.0 out of 5 stars The wealth and poverty of nations
Landes is an experienced author, who has a realistic and holistic view on the wealth of nations in today's world.
Published 23 months ago by Robin Cain
4.0 out of 5 stars Scotland's Smith Beats Germany's Marx in Ideological Championships
Adam Smith, a Scots Protestant from Kirkcaldy*, beat a German Jew, Karl Marx, in the world's heavyweight ideological championships. Read more
Published on 27 Aug 2012 by John Fitzpatrick
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but...
Landes' book is a sweeping coverage of the rise and fall of nations, and in this respect is fascinating. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2010 by A Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wealth and Poety of Nations
It is an excellent book and this copy was bought for a friend. Service and delivery were excellent too.
Published on 27 Nov 2009 by Lurline Tillett
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read
This book by a Harvard professor is a gripping and very accessible account of the subject of the title. It is full of fascinating facts and insights. Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2009 by W. Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable survey of the industrial origins of wealth
This remarkable book asks why some nations are wealthy and others poor, why some nations developed industry and others didn't. Read more
Published on 8 Sep 2009 by William Podmore
4.0 out of 5 stars Something to read during vacation
I liked this book as a holiday reading. Since I am not historian I don't know is the book describing history as it was, at least Landes sounds convincing. Read more
Published on 5 May 2008 by Kerola Sami
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