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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World Hardcover – April 16, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Third Printing edition (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488665
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Financial Times world trade editor Beattie combines economic history, psychology and political analysis to identify the factors that predispose economies to sickness or health. The author takes a human interest, Freakonomics-style approach to such economic riddles as why Islamic nations stay mired in poverty (he argues that one reason might be the Qur'an's dictum against usury and interest-earning) and why Africa is dependent on exporting raw materials rather than commercial products (soaring temperatures and shoddy infrastructure). Beattie imbues economics with wonderful mystery as he untangles the mechanisms of the blood diamond trade and Peru's curious stranglehold on the global export of asparagus. Closer to home, Beattie examines the economic rivalry between Argentina and the United States a century ago; when Argentina seemed to be winning, the U.S. made a series of crucial decisions, moved forward and left Argentina poised for financial disaster. Thorough research, eclectic examples and a sprightly tone (Puritans were not big on bling) should make this a hit among those interested in world economics—and a must-read alternative for those who couldn't get through Guns, Germs and Steel. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Beattie worked as an economist at the Bank of England and then joined the Financial Times in 1998 and is currently the paper’s world-trade editor. This is not a criticism of the 2004–07 real-estate debacle that caused the collapse of U.S. and world financial systems, as might be surmised by the title, but rather a historical glimpse at the causes and effects that explain why some economies prosper in certain ways while others do not. Beattie contrasts the economies of Argentina and the U.S., for example, showing why Argentina has prospered even while our economic downturn has seemingly brought down the economies of the rest of the world. He compares the ancient city of Rome to present-day large metropolises; explains how trade routes and climate (both political and meteorological) affect where crops are grown and how they are processed; and looks at some of the idiosyncrasies of corruption and power. By looking back to look forward, Beattie concludes that the experience of history provides hope that we have the ability to make the right choices going forward. --David Siegfried

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Customer Reviews

The book reads well, with interesting examples carefully analyzed.
Edward Durney
Overall...very good book for those interested in economics, politics, history, or "the way the world works."
eyecore
My impression of infrastructure in Bolivia or Peru was not that it is much better than in Africa.
Christian Kober

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 130 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on March 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rules for successful countries: Don't be overly isolationist. Don't strive toward complete self-sufficiency. Plan ahead for cities but don't support them over and above what supply and demand allows. Support your country's economy for those things it does well, not what neighboring countries may do well or other preconceived notions. Prevent any group from hijacking religion for their own political purposes. Don't let your government ignore property rights and the rule of law. Don't let natural resource windfalls, such as oil or diamonds, distract you from finding employment for your middle and lower classes. Don't let small interest groups hold your politicians hostage to the detriment of the rest of the country. Poor nations - worry less about trade policy and more about obstructive customs procedures and corruption that drives away business. Worry less about corruption that is moderate and predictable. When your country falls off the wagon, make every attempt to recognize it and get it back on course.

Each chapter asks a question. Here are the author's answers:

1. Argentina failed and the United States succeeded because the United States consistently self-corrected from a good start based on a good English model. Argentina consistently repeated mistakes from a bad pattern inherited from an autocratic Spanish model.

2. Like countries, cities are shaped not just by big economic forces and geography (although those have a big influence) but also by choices made by governments and their people. Washington DC was placed in a "federal district" because the founding fathers were paranoid about giving any state the upper hand. Political inertia has kept DC without a vote but this is not a chapter about Washington DC.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Mark P. McDonald TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
False Economy is more of a random set of musings, stories and discussions than a consolidated economic history of the world. Organized across a combination of economic and societal principles, the book reads more like a private tutorial session -- over coffee -- at Oxford or Cambridge than a book intended to illuminate the reader. If the author intended this book to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Friedman, then he has come up short, not from lack of material, but rather from lack of organization and telling a consistent story across the chapters.

The chapters themselves are interesting, full of personal opinion, and provide a subtle but decidedly British point of view. The bias and slant that this includes sheds additional light on the subject of each chapter but only if you read for it and recognize that its there. Its a little like British humor which you have to listen to the words. In this book you have to read every sentence because more likely than not the main idea is buried in a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. Just a note to readers.

This makes the book tough to read for someone who is used to reading while they are travelling, have an hour or two to spare, etc. To get the most out of this book, I had to reserve an hour or so at the start of the day to do nothing but read and think about what the author was saying.

The assertions made in across the chapters on economic choices, cities, trade, natural resources, religion, etc are deliberately provocative -- again in the British style. The author's words are not as radical as the titles would suggest, and his prose can be indirect in several places.

So three stars, good content, interesting conjecture, well written technically, but not well structured for the reader.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Alan Beattie writes for the Financial Times. Here, he departs from financial reporting to write something geared to a more general audience. People who have an interest in economics, and history, but who are not economists or historians.

False Economy was just right for me. Not too technical, but not too general. Economic history has always interested me. With economics, no one has a crystal ball to peer into the future. The past is our only clue. For economists, studying the past is important. Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, knows as much about the Great Depression as any historian.

But economic history books can be some of the toughest to get through. Dense information must be presented. Careful analysis must be made. Comparing and contrasting different economic theories must be done in detail. Most of the time, that detail is excruciating.

Robert Samuelson's book The Great Inflation shows that. I like to read Samuelson's columns in Newsweek and the Washington Post, and I enjoyed reading his book. But it was a chore to get through. (To be quite honest, there were some parts I skipped.) Same with Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, a fine but occasionally tedious history of the four men who led the central banks in the US, France, England and Germany during the Great Depression.

For me, tedium was not a problem with False Economy. The book reads well, with interesting examples carefully analyzed. Each chapter takes a topic and runs with it.
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