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The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created Paperback – June 21, 2010
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So why only three stars? Because economic history needs both good economics and good history: Bernstein's history is very bad indeed.
The first thing that jumps out is how Bernstein relies on popular histories. When he discusses the Middle Ages, for example, he repeatedly cites Barbara Tuchman's _A Distant Mirror_. That is a very good popular history of 14th century northern France. She used scholarly sources, which in turn used original period sources. But this is another way of saying that what we get from Bernstein is three steps removed from concrete facts to ever vaguer generalization, rather like repeatedly photocopying a document. Statements about one place and time get turned into statements about Europe in the Middle Ages. When you deal in vague generalizations you can make the history fit any desired mold. Anyone claiming to have a brilliant historical insight should at least read actual historians.Read more ›
His theory is not unique. The countries who prosper are the ones who give their citizen the right to own their property, to communicate freely with each other, to practice the scientific method to replace outdated traditional knowledge, and to take business risk with other people's money. In summary, the countries who prosper are the ones who allow individuals to reap the fruits of their risk-taking efforts. These are not new and original ideas.
After all, there is a long list of economics writers who pretty much said the same thing starting with Adam Smith back in 1776 in the "Wealth of Nations." More recently, Hernando de Soto wrote about the exact same subject in "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else." Also, David Landes' book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor" adopts the exact same theory as Bernstein's. My list could go on an on. This is because it is a subject that fascinates and never gets exhausted.
Even though all the above books are excellent and some are true classics in comparative international economics, Bernstein's book shines because it is so much more readable, accessible, and entertaining to read. While the others come across as dull economics professors, Bernstein comes across as an incredibly lively journalist. He turns his treaty on economics history into a real page turner giving David Browne's "Da Vinci Code" a run for his money [in the page turning department]. Thus, by reading this book you will learn just as much if not more than the other books I have mentioned, and you will have so much more fun.
Both the general reader, as well as historians and economists, will find Bernstein's four-factor paradigm invaluable in understanding how the world arrived in its present state. His prose is lively, and given the weight of the subject, goes down like fine claret. You don't even have to take my word for it-according to the April 5 edition of Publishers Weekly, "Packed with information and ideas, Bernstein's book is an authoritative economic history, accessible and thoroughly entertaining."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book! Offers the opinion that the wealthy countries of the world became that way because they developed four attributes: 1) private property with rule of law and civil... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Bayard B.
Great book on the history of economies and reasons they failed.The author even cites references in the book. A plus.Published 3 months ago by Gavin Tow
Fascinating read. I also recommend his other book, The Intelligent Asset Allocator: The Intelligent Asset Allocator: How to Build Your Portfolio to Maximize Returns and Minimize... Read morePublished 3 months ago by T. Clark
Fascinating analysis that makes economic history come alive. The author's varied background, meticulous research weaves a compelling account of how and why innovation is the engine... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Dai Bach
If you want to understand both prosperity and poverty, this is the best book I have read.Published 10 months ago by Roger Dan Edwards
This is the second I have read by this author and I love his casual, rolling narratives on economic history topics.Published 11 months ago by NorthernVirginia1982
A skillfully written page turner, as enjoyable to read as The Four Pillars of Investing. As a layman in the fields of economics and Western history, I enjoyed flipping through page... Read morePublished 12 months ago by matt simerson