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Wealth And Poverty Of Nations Paperback – 1 Apr 1999

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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 4.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,319 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

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 73 people found the following review helpful By A. O. P. Akemu on 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 By E. Smakman on 16 May 2007
Format: Paperback
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 on 2 Jun. 1998
Format: Hardcover
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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