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An Essay on the Principle of Population (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

by Thomas Malthus, Geoffrey Gilbert
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)


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An Essay on the Principle of Population (Oxford World's Classics) An Essay on the Principle of Population (Oxford World's Classics) 4.3 out of 5 stars (3)
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Book Description

November 11, 1999 0192837478 978-0192837479
As the world's population continues to grow at a frighteningly rapid rate, Malthus's classic warning against overpopulation gains increasing importance. An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) examines the tendency of human numbers to outstrip their resources, and argues that checks in the form of poverty, disease, and starvation are necessary to keep societies from moving beyond their means of subsistence. Malthus's simple but powerful argument was controversial in his time; today his name has become a byword for active concern about humankind's demographic and ecological prospects.


Editorial Reviews

About the Author

He is also the author of many articles on Malthus, the Poor Law, and the Welfare State. He is currently researching a book on Malthus and poverty.

Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192837478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192837479
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important essay. July 11, 2000
Format:Paperback
This small and often overlooked essay by Thomas Malthus is probably one of the most important essays ever written.
Way back in 1798 Malthus wrote this essay to expose how human population is still being kept in check by mother nature. Famine, plague and war pop up whenever a population gets too high.
The essay has been overlooked mostly because of the stance Malthus takes in this book towards the poor. He suggests that when you give money to people who don't work, you help them have children. This increases the population without increasing production of food. Also, by increasing the standard of living of these people, you then qualify more people to receive without working, exacerbating the situation. Malthus clearly supports workhouses to welfare in this essay.
This essay had influenced two notable people. First is Charles Dickens. In 'A Christmas Carol' you read how Scrooge said, "that if the poor would not go into workhouses, they might as well die and decrease the surplus population". This was aimed straight at Malthus. The second person he influenced with this essay is Darwin. While reading Malthus, Darwin realized that population pressure was that "natural selector" that made evolution possible.
If you want to read a piece of history, read this essay. If you then want to get a more modern and thorough take on the subject read Marvin Harris's "Cannibals and Kings".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was Malthus Right? May 21, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population has been the subject of much debate. 19th Century economists accepted The Population Principle as fact. 20th century economists have arrived at such a strong consensus against the Population Principle, that the subject is considered as closed. The main reason for this consensus is failure to realize Malthus' dire predictions. Declines in birth rates among prosperous nations indicate that Malthus was wrong.

An Essay on the Principle of Population is important today for several reasons. First, it is an important part of history. Second, population issues still loom large. Also, historian Ross Emmett has reinterpreted Malthus in a way that fits better with world experience. My own reading of An Essay on the Principle of Population fits with Emmett's reinterpretation of Malthus.

Malthus reasoned through one of the biggest issues. This is a classic of political economy, worthy of careful consideration. Don't listed to those who say Malthus has been proven wrong. Read this book and judge its merits yourself.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary. September 29, 2005
Format:Paperback
That Thomas Robert Malthus was a cleric might startle some readers, who could look on his pessimism as something that is more typical of a man of hard, God-less science. Malthus was clearly, once one examines deep within the heart of his treatise on overpopulation, a theist, and a hard-hearted "God Disposes" sort of one at that. Underneath everything, we can sense Malthus' view being, "ultimately what does this brief, cluttered, hopeless world matter next to eternal life in Heaven?" Malthus' statements about the human race breeding past its ability to feed itself, have merit, but he failed to take into account the capacity of science to be humanity's deliverer. Revolutions in agriculture, medicine, social health, as well as many other fields, not excluding simple advances in birth control, have to an extent nullified the ABSOLUTE nature of Thomas Malthus' ideas, and instead, alas, made them true primarily in the 21st century for the Third World alone. Malthus was a man both in and ahead of his time--in it because he had but to open his eyes and see starvation and orphaned children, poverty and overcrowding in the slums, and ahead of his time in that he looked forward and forecast a dire warning to the world of a time when the horrors of this state might over-sweep civilization and strangle it to death with numbers alone. Malthus was a cruel man on one hand, advocating the selective starvation of a segment of society. He totally opposed any form of welfare, charity or aid to those who could not contribute to their own upkeep. Those types, he argued, decayed human society and lead it closer to the nightmare state he detailed in his work. He cited wars, plagues, famines, as servants of humanity, in that they thinned the ranks and tried to keep us from reproducing ourselves into extinction. Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bigger than life November 6, 2003
Format:Paperback
The reverend Thomas Robert Malthus is one of these figures that influences, in his case for good, generations to come. The concepts he developed, which is not the same to say that he discovered the fundamentals of these concepts, are of such working capability, that they can be used even today on a daily basis, some 200 + years after the first publication of his seminal and most important book, certainly one of the most important texts of all times. His name turned itself into an important adjective, malthusian, sometimes associated to a lot of misconceptions and misuse, mainly due to undue interpretations of things Malthus did not said, or did write with a different manifest meaning. Troughout his lifetime, Malthus, already a recognised and famous man, had to revise a lot of editions of his works in order to precise what he meant to say.
Dipping down into the original malthusian fountain is, in this way, a pretty much refreshing and inspiring experience, shunning aside the many bad interpretations attached to his original thinking by second hand reading. As a plus, the book presents at the end two extremely beatifully written chapters on the philosophical reasons behind Good and Evil, a necessary explanation in a revolutionary theory that could be interpreted as intrinsically evilsome. To add content and lustre to all Malthus wrote, one has to remind that the greatest economist of the XX century, John Maynard Keynes, felt himself philosophically and theoretically affiliated with Malthus in a very great scale, to the point of saying that, if Malthus had been better understood, the world would not had to suffer the weaknesses of David Ricardo's theories.
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