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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 20, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307719219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307719218
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (429 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


Guest Reviewer: Charles C. Mann on Why Nations Fail
Charles C. Mann, a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science, and Wired, has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post, as well as for the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

A few years ago, while I was researching a book on the history of globalization, I suddenly realized that I was seeing the same two names on a lot of the smartest stuff I was reading. The names belonged to two economists, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Much of their work focused on a single question: Why are poor places poor, and is there something we can do about it?

This is one of the most important questions imaginable in economics—indeed, in the world today. It is also one of the most politically fraught. In working on my book, I read numerous attempts by economists, historians and other researchers to explain why most of North America and Europe is wealthy and why most of Asia, Africa and Latin America is not. But these usually boiled down to claims that rich nations had won the game by cheating poor places or that poor places had inherently inferior cultures (or locations) which prevented them from rising. Conservative economists used the discussion as a chance to extol the wide-open markets they already believed in; liberal economists used it to make the attacks on unrestrained capitalism they were already making. And all too often both seemed wildly ignorant of history. I can’t recall encountering another subject on which so many people expended so much energy to generate so little light.

Acemoglu and Robinson were in another category entirely. They assembled what is, in effect, a gigantic, super-complete database of every country’s history, and used it to ask questions—wicked smart questions. They found unexpected answers—ones that may not satisfy partisans of either side, but have the ring of truth.

Why Nations Fail is full of astounding stories. I ended up carrying the book around, asking friends, “Did you know this?” The stories make it a pleasure to read. More important, though, Acemoglu and Robinson changed my perspective on how the world works. My suspicion is that I won’t be the only person to say this after reading Why Nations Fail.

Review

"Should be required reading for politicians and anyone concerned with economic development." —Jared Diamond, New York Review of Books

"...bracing, garrulous, wildly ambitious and ultimately hopeful. It may, in fact, be a bit of a masterpiece."Washington Post

“For economics and political-science students, surely, but also for the general reader who will appreciate how gracefully the authors wear their erudition.”Kirkus Reviews
 
“Provocative stuff; backed by lots of brain power.”Library Journal

“This is an intellectually rich book that develops an important thesis with verve. It should be widely read.”Financial Times

“A probing . . . look at the roots of political and economic success . . . large and ambitious new book.” The Daily

Why Nations Fail is a splendid piece of scholarship and a showcase of economic rigor.” —The Wall Street Journal

"Ranging from imperial Rome to modern Botswana, this book will change the way people think about the wealth and poverty of nations...as ambitious as Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel."
Bloomberg BusinessWeek

“The main strength of this book is beyond the power of summary: it is packed, from beginning to end, with historical vignettes that are both erudite and fascinating. As Jared Diamond says on the cover: 'It will make you a spellbinder at parties.' But it will also make you think.” —The  Observer (UK)

"A brilliant book.” Bloomberg (Jonathan Alter)

Why Nations Fail is a wildly ambitious work that hopscotches through history and around the world to answer the very big question of why some countries get rich and others don’t.” The New York Times (Chrystia Freeland)

"Why Nations Failis a truly awesome book. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle one of the most important problems in the social sciences—a question that has bedeviled leading thinkers for centuries—and offer an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity and power. A wonderfully readable mix of history, political science, and economics, this book will change the way we think about economic development. Why Nations Fail is a must-read book." —Steven Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics

"You will have three reasons to love this book. It’s about national income differences within the modern world, perhaps the biggest problem facing the world today. It’s peppered with fascinating stories that will make you a spellbinder at cocktail parties—such as why Botswana is prospering and Sierra Leone isn’t. And it’s a great read. Like me, you may succumb to reading it in one go, and then you may come back to it again and again." —Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the bestsellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

"A compelling and highly readable book. And [the] conclusion is a cheering one: the authoritarian ‘extractive’ institutions like the ones that drive growth in China today are bound to run out of steam. Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary." —Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money

"Some time ago a little-known Scottish philosopher wrote a book on what makes nations succeed and what makes them fail. The Wealth of Nations is still being read today. With the same perspicacity and with the same broad historical perspective, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have retackled this same question for our own times. Two centuries from now our great-great- . . . -great grandchildren will be, similarly, reading Why Nations Fail." —George Akerlof, Nobel laureate in economics, 2001

"Why Nations Fail is so good in so many ways that I despair of listing them all. It explains huge swathes of human history. It is equally at home in Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is fair to left and right and every flavor in between. It doesn’t pull punches but doesn’t insult just to gain attention. It illuminates the past as it gives us a new way to think about the present. It is that rare book in economics that convinces the reader that the authors want the best for ordinary people. It will provide scholars with years of argument and ordinary readers with years of did-you-know-that dinner conversation. It has some jokes, which are always welcome. It is an excellent book and should be purchased forthwith, so to encourage the authors to keep working." —Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

“Imagine sitting around a table listening to Jared Diamond, Joseph Schumpeter, and James Madison reflect on over two thousand years of political and economic history.  Imagine that they weave their ideas into a coherent theoretical framework based on limiting extraction, promoting creative destruction, and creating strong political institutions that share power and you begin to see the contribution of this brilliant and engagingly written book.” —Scott E. Page, University of Michigan and Santa Fre Institute

“This fascinating and readable book centers on the complex joint evolution of political and economic institutions, in good directions and bad. It strikes a delicate balance between the logic of political and economic behavior and the shifts in direction created by contingent historical events, large and small at ‘critical junctures.' Acemoglu and Robinson provide an enormous range of historical examples to show how such shifts can tilt toward favorable institutions, progressive innovation and economic success or toward repressive institutions and eventual decay or stagnation. Somehow they can generate both excitement and reflection.” —Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1987

“It’s the politics, stupid! That is Acemoglu and Robinson’s simple yet compelling explanation for why so many countries fail to develop. From the absolutism of the Stuarts to the antebellum South, from Sierra Leone to Colombia, this magisterial work shows how powerful elites rig the rules to benefit themselves at the expense of the many.  Charting a careful course between the pessimists and optimists, the authors demonstrate history and geography need not be destiny. But they also document how sensible economic ideas and policies often achieve little in the absence of fundamental political change.”—Dani Rodrik, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“Two of the world’s best and most erudite economists turn to the hardest  issue of all: why are some nations poor and others rich? Written with a deep knowledge of economics and political history, this is perhaps the most powerful statement made to date that ‘institutions matter.’  A provocative, instructive, yet thoroughly enthralling book.” —Joel Mokyr, Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History, Northwestern University

“A brilliant and uplifting book—yet also a deeply disturbing wake-up call. Acemoglu and Robinson lay out a convincing theory of almost everything to do with economic development. Countries rise when they put in place the right pro-growth political institutions and they fail—often spectacularly—when those institutions ossify or fail to adapt.  Powerful people always and everywhere seek to grab complete control over government, undermining broader social progress for their own greed. Keep those people in check with effective democracy or watch your nation fail.” —Simon Johnson, co-author of 13 Bankers and professor at MIT Sloan

“This important and insightful book, packed with historical examples, makes the case that inclusive political institutions in support of inclusive economic institutions is key to sustained prosperity. The book reviews how some good regimes got launched and then had a virtuous spiral, while bad regimes remain in a vicious spiral.  This is important analysis not to be missed.” —Peter Diamond, Nobel Laureate in Economics
 
“Acemoglu and Robinson have made an important contribution to the debate as to why similar-looking nations differ so greatly in their economic and political development. Through a broad multiplicity of historical examples, they show how institutional developments, sometimes based on very accidental circumstances, have had enormous consequences. The openness of a society, its willingness to permit creative destruction, and the rule of  appear to be decisive for economic development.” —Kenneth Arrow, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1972
 
“Acemoglu and Robinson—two of the world's leading experts on development—reveal why it is not geography, disease, or culture which explains why some nations are rich and some poor, but rather a matter of institutions and politics. This highly accessible book provides welcome insight to specialists and general readers alike.” —Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man and The Origins of Political Order

“Some time ago a little known Scottish philosopher wrote a book on what makes nations succeed and what makes them fail.  The Wealth of Nations is still being read today.  With the same perspicacity and with the same broad historical perspective, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have re-tac...

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Customer Reviews

Very well written book!!
roger d thompson
The theory of extractive and inclusive economic and political institutions from the authors, Acemoglu and Robinson, is the most plausible one for me.
Christian Hepe
I heartily recommend reading this book.
Adrian W. Rich

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Sergei Soares on May 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
To an economist like me, reading Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is akin to being set free from shackles worn since I began studying. However, first let me say that the book has many and serious shortcomings. Let me talk about these before I get into why this book set me free. Since I am going to strongly criticize aspects of the book, let me make clear that this is one of the best books on economics I have read in a long time.

Several criticisms have been leveled in other reviews against this book: it is simplistic and perhaps overly ambitious, the history is bad, it explains away competing explanations. They are all true.

The book is undoubtedly simplistic. Basically, the authors state that the institutions of a nation or society can be placed on a one dimensional continuum running from "extractive" to "inclusive" and this explains the history of humanity from the neolithic to the present day. A second leitmotif is that the economic and political institutions complement each other and that economically inclusive but politically extractive institutions cannot last for long (as well as the opposite). Finally, since political and economic institutions reinforce each other, they are quite difficult to change, leading to what the authors call "the iron law of oligarchy." Needless to say, this really oversimplifies the analysis of institutions and history. While Acemoglu and Robinson give many, many historical examples to illustrate their thesis, some are more convincing than others. They use a huge mallet to hammer all the facts into their mold, either ignoring or re-interpreting contrary evidence.

I am no historian, but I do know the history of the region in which I live, Latin America, reasonably well.
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237 of 257 people found the following review helpful By Ken McCormick VINE VOICE on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Why are some nations rich and others poor? The question has occupied economists since Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. As Nobel laureate Robert Lucas said, once you start thinking about that question, "it is hard to think about anything else." Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have been thinking hard about it, and Why Nations Fail provides their answer.

Their main thesis is "that while economic institutions are critical for determining whether a country is poor or prosperous, it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a country has" (page 43). That the right economic institutions are vital has long been recognized; what Acemoglu and Robinson do is emphasize the critical role of politics. They argue that an inclusive political system will allow for an inclusive economic system. Such a system provides incentives for people to acquire skills, work hard, save, invest, and, most importantly, innovate. In contrast, an extractive political system exists for the benefit of a narrow elite, and creates an extractive economic system. The masses cannot influence the political system, and have no incentives to exert themselves creating wealth that will be taken from them by the political elites. Extractive economic systems can achieve growth for a short while, but cannot achieve persistent growth. That is because they cannot generate significant technological change and because there will be infighting over the system's spoils.

The authors provide a wealth of historical examples from all over the world and from ancient to modern times. The numerous examples allow the authors to illustrate their ideas with concrete examples.
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397 of 439 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I find the topic utterly fascinating: why do some nations prosper, and improve the life of their citizens, and others fail, often disastrously so? Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, both academics, propose a model based on the concepts of "extractive" vs. "inclusive" institutions. They attempt to support their thesis by undertaking a very broad review of economic and historical developments in a spectrum of 30 or so countries. They commence, like medical researchers do when they hope to minimize the number of variables, by examining "twins." In the author's case the "twins" are the cities of Nogales, immediately adjacent, in Arizona, and in Sonora. One is relatively prosperous, the other not so. It is a good start, and later in the book, the author uses the two Koreas. In both cases, geography and culture are relatively constant, which seems to bolster their view that it is the "institutions" that govern the lives of the respective citizens that are causative.

However the book can be a bit of a maddening slog in order to find some enjoyable nuggets of information and/or wisdom. For sure, if one establishes a situation in which individuals have incentives to produce they will work harder. So, why is this concept not universally embraced, by corporations and countries? I once set up a "profit-sharing" program for workers in my company; it seemed to change attitudes, improved the operating efficiency and reduce waste. After I left, the owner immediately eliminated it, though he would pontificate on the needs for economic incentives for himself! His outlook was rigid: if he was "sharing" the profits with the workers, he was a loser, and the thought that he might have a slightly smaller percentage of a much bigger pie never entered his mind.
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