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The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 2, 2008
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From School Library Journal
Environmental historian and author of the well-received Larding the Lean Earth, Stoll (history, Fordham Univ.) here considers the life and ideas of the greatly deluded J.A. Etzler, a now-obscure utopian engineer whose influence during his peak in 1820s–40s Germany and America was nil. Etzler believed that inexhaustible earthly natural resources, to which value would be constantly added through technological innovation, fated poverty and inequality to obsolescence. History has not proven Etzler prescient, so it's puzzling that Stoll works so hard to make the case against Etzler's hyperconsumption gospel. The book suffers from disjointedness, with three related but mismatched essays—an intellectual biography of a less-than-scintillating figure, an overview of 19th-century environmental history, and a work of contemporary advocacy of conservation. Stoll's witty account of Etzler's unworkable "Naval Automaton," variously described as an engine or wagon by contemporaries, is the book's highlight. While the narratives are well done, the book is ultimately not fulfilling. Recommended with reservations for academic libraries.—Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA
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Holding that indefinite economic growth is impossible, historian Stoll projects his viewpoint on a biography of John Adolphus Etzler. An interesting but strange wanderer, Etzler appears intermittently in history and vanishes after the fiasco of a colonization venture. A German who traveled to America, England, and South America between the 1820s and 1840s, Etzler was mechanically inclined, philosophically inspired by Hegel, and associated with utopian socialists of the period. A manifesto Etzler wrote captures the spirit of the man: The Paradise within the Reach of All Men, without Labour, by Powers of Nature and Machinery. Etzler would transport humanity to paradise on his designs for machines that he thought could tap energy for free. As Stoll recounts Etzler’s contraptions, and Etzler’s recruitment of a few hundred people to apply his ideas in Venezuela, Stoll develops his case against perpetual economic increase through discussion of nineteenth-century economists and contemporary critics. But the eccentric Etzler is the star of this work, and Stoll has wisely chosen him to get across his limits-to-growth message. --Gilbert Taylor
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