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Natural Experiments of History Paperback – March 7, 2011
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Natural Experiments of History reaches across a wide variety of disciplines, in ways that should be accessible to just about every educated reader. It is tied together not by topic or region but by the idea that we can make useful and insightful comparisons in ways that are not casual or sloppy, but actually contribute to our understanding of human life. (Jeffry Frieden, Harvard University)
Natural Experiments of History is a short book packed with huge ideas. Its collected essays advocate how controlled experiments can be applied to the messy realities of human history, politics, culture, economics and the environment. It demonstrates productive interdisciplinary collaborations but also reveals gulfs between different cultures of academia...All of the essays in Natural Experiments of History will trigger debate. (Jon Christensen Nature 2010-03-25)
This ambitious, at times challenging, book aspires to contribute new ways of historical thinking and historical research by drawing attention, on the one hand, to the similarities between science (including social sciences) and history, and on the other, by using social sciences methods, especially statistical analysis, to study history. The editors argue that though the difference between studies of nature and human history is obvious, there are clear overlaps. They can be viewed through studying comparative history or by conducting "natural experiments of history" and analyzing the "perturbations" and their causes (exogenous or endogenous) in the involved cases. The book offers a broad array of case studies to illustrate and explain the argument, ranging from nonliterate to contemporary societies and from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to Brazil, India, and tropical Africa. The comparative methods showcased are quite versatile, from two-way to multiple-way comparisons. All the case studies are interesting and help demonstrate how, via comparative study, one society's, region's, or country's situation is better displayed and explained by juxtaposing it with other, similar ones. A useful read in macro, global history. (Q. E. Wang Choice 2010-11-01)
Natural Experiments of History is a thought-provoking collection of essays that covers an impressive array of topics and would make an excellent text for a course on comparative studies of human history." (Thomas E. Currie Cliodynamics)
About the Author
James A. Robinson is Professor of Government, Harvard University.
Top Customer Reviews
Some of the essays are more interesting than others: notable is the one which quantitatively correlates the extent of the slave trade in various African countries with the state of their modern-day economic development (or rather, the lack thereof.)
It's a bit of a dry read -- in some essays more than in others. But if this methodology for understanding our past interests you, it's worth the read.
This book is a collection of 7 essays, most of which are quite dry and academic. Definitely not as readable as the books I mentioned above.
Diamond co-wrote the prologue (which is mostly a summary of the book's contents) and afterword. He also authored (alone) one chapter, which is a comparison of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Specifically, he examines why Haiti and the DR have turned out so differently, despite the fact that they share the same island. Much of this is discussed also in his book Collapse, but the chapter is still very interesting.
Another chapter (by Kirch) compares a few different Polynesian islands, to try and discover which variables led to different political histories. Some areas of the world discussed in other chapters are: West Africa, India, and the western US, among a couple of others. Some of these chapters are more interesting than others. None is probably as readable as Diamond's own.
This is definitely not a light read, and it is not something that most people will read cover to cover. An important book for the academic community perhaps, but not for the average reader (like me). Overall kind of boring.
This collection of historical essays does not center around any particular topic. Instead it focuses on an historical method, comparative history, with the actual topics varying widely. The book really is designed for those interested in historical methods, which is a pretty narrow group I'd estimate.
If you chose this book (like me) because you enjoyed Jared Diamond's other popular history books, be aware that Diamond only wrote one chapter (excluding the introductory and conclusory material) and that Diamond's chapter is a condensed version of material that already appeared in his book Collapse.
If you heard good things about this book through the grapevine, then you might need a different grapevine in my opinion. I enjoyed the insights that the essays produced, especially the essays on the American frontier population booms and the long-lasting effects of the African slave trade, but in general the essays were dry and not easy to navigate.
The chapters vary somewhat in quality. Chapters by Kirch and Belich are really brief summaries of a large body of prior work. They are interesting but insufficiently detailed though they have excellent bibliographies. The Nunn chapter is most interesting part of this book. Nunn uses a careful accounting of the regional distribution of the African slave trade to assess the long term effects of the slave trade on African economic development.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jared Diamond tends to cherrypick the data he wants to apply to whatever idea he has come up with. That was true for Guns, Germs and Steel, as well as Collapse (books which... Read morePublished 10 months ago by slowponyhome
How could Diamond Not be fascinating? We just need to see how we can make changes. As some wise one remarked, there isn't much new - but we don't seem to learn and we always seem... Read morePublished 12 months ago by susan thomas
I expected more writing from Diamond and the articles are somewhat academic in focus, but overall I have learned more about the subject.Published 20 months ago by Anna Allen
What a tough read...be ready to dig in. Diamond is famous ( with me ) for accessibility, this is not that. Read morePublished on June 17, 2014 by MATT
A collection of essays by elsewhere interesting authors on a topic that should be stimulating. Unfortunately for me they read like a collection of papers delivered at a conference... Read morePublished on May 26, 2014 by D A Booth
I read anything and everything written by (or edited by, in this case) Jared Diamond. This was a very interesting and thought-provoking book on natural experiments.Published on December 28, 2013 by Raymond Waugh
"Natural Experiments of History" is a collection of essays that shares many good qualities with the best-selling book on economics, "Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt and Stephen... Read morePublished on October 14, 2012 by Doktor Faustus