From Publishers Weekly
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
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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