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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 21 April 1998
Fischer's book takes in a long view of basic economic history. It covers the period from roughly 1200 AD to present, using data from England, Europe and the United States. The book sizes up what has taken place economically, socially, etc. and it discusses some basic relationships. A great contribution of the book is that it becomes apparent to the reader that long term effects are frequently completely invisible to people coping with present economic situations. For example, many well-intended fiscal policies are counter-productive or produce neutral effects for this very reason. Another great supporting contribution of the book is that Fischer is well aware of the various schools of economic thought. At many places in the text, he points out weaknesses of certain theories; in his appendix he summarizes by showing that no existing single theory fully explains actual historical events. Another great contribution is the appendix itself. It comprises half the book, and contains a massive bibliography, with further elaborations on social issues, crime, disease, divorce, contrasts in economic theories, wealth distribution, and more. Most of the references are of high scholarly quality. There are a few shortcomings in presentation, but these are details. For example, Fischer occasionally makes asides which would be more effective if they were concise summaries. Also, some of his graphs have peculiar scaling. The reader must exercise care in interpreting them. Nevertheless, ... Fischer's work is an excellent overview of economic dynamics, and is highly recommended for obtaining a well-rounded perspective.
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on 7 February 1997
Utilizing a very long telescope, one that sees back into the Dark Ages, Brandise University professor David Hackett Fischer investigates the history of price changes to expound on a fascinating theory that can possibly foretell nothing less than the future of the United States, whether we're headed for an era of greater prosperity, or a catastrophe like that of the Great Depression.
By examining the prices people paid for goods throughout history, four price-revolutions, were identified, where inflation grew in intensity strong enough to destabilize society. After each crash came a long period of comparative price-equilibrium, when countries experienced growth in culture, such as during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
Fischer's book looks intimidating: its 536 pages is studded with charts showing the flucturation of prices throughout history. But Fishcher devotes only 258 pages to an analysis of prices waves; the rest of the book is taken up with appendices and essays on side issues. And the 258 pages contains 105 charts, further reducing the amount of reading needed to grasp the main points. Fischer retells history during the four waves, and there, except for the occasional burst of economic jargon, the text is compelling, and the theory well worth considering.
-- Bill Peschel
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on 12 February 1998
I have been surprised that scholars in the social sciences have not paid more attention to Fischer's book. There are, as with any integrative work of this scope, issues. My main concern is that he treats preferred family size as a psychological variable which is taken as a given; in fact, attitudes about number and investment in offspring are well studied in behavioral biology (though in humans, our psychological capacities -- especially for self-deception and ideology -- require added analysis compared to other species). Still, Fischer reminds us that most scholarship takes an absurdly narrow view of time and space. Moreover, his categorization seems to fit some of my own work on the impllications of technological and theoretical change in late 15th/early 16th century Florence.
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on 29 December 1999
A remarkable review of economic cycles since 1200. Well written, informative, and remarkably humane. If civilisation is going to control the slumps and booms so that the poor do not always suffer, then we need all of us to leant to apply the lessons taught us in this book.
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on 4 November 1998
This should be a must read for anyone interested in inflation and historical business cycles. There is a liberal bias to some of his arguments but the criticisms I have seen of this work are oversimplifications of this massive synthesis of economic and historical data.
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on 31 January 1997
An outstanding way to communicate history. This is a very objective
and quantitative argument about the factors that really move
history. The causes of the great historical events, from
famines to wars to relative prosperity are argued in a most
convincing fashion, and with a style that keeps the reader
wanting to read on.
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on 17 June 1999
Here's a book whose scope would intimidate most historians and economists: seven centuries of price history ranging across the globe, although Fischer's preferred case is Western Europe. The historical discussion is very weak. Professional historians no longer believe in, much less write about "The Renaissance" and few would grant that price trends explain sociocultural phenomena, which is clearly what Fischer thinks even as he denies it. The economics isn't much better. For example, Fischer routinely confuses changes in relative prices with changes in the price level and makes no distinction between the functional and size distributions of income. The concluding chapter would be funny if it were not seriously intended. But you know what, despite all its flaws, this is a book that gets you thinking.
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on 7 November 2014
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on 6 April 1997
Being very interested in the effects the economy in general and price movements in particularly had on the history of the civilization, I have immediately noticed this book and bought it. What a disappointment! Compared to, for example, Fernan Braudel excellent study of the European economic history, Fischer's book frequently lacks factual basis and depth. The book is also amazingly brief for such a colossal subject. The author's style is, in my view, below criticism - the book is written as if is it intended for distribution among illiterate peasants. Finally, the part of the book discussing the 20th century monetary history has an easily noticeable political bias and hints at some dark conspiracies originated in the US government and the Federal Reserve to impoverish the American worker. In brief, don't waste your time and money on this book. Special thanks to for issuing a full refund for this book to me.
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