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Nature: An Economic History Paperback – September 10, 2006

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2004 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Geology and Earth Science, Association of American Publishers

"Novel and intriguing. . . . [Nature: An Economic History] offers a distinctive point of view and an insightful synthesis that promises to provide the basis of much future work."--Douglas H. Erwin, Science

"Vermeij is one of the master naturalists of our time, and his command of the subtleties of animal interactions is exceptional. I think anyone can learn a great deal from this book."--Richard K. Bambach, American Scientist

"Vermeij, a well-known paleontologist and observer of nature writ large, has written a marvelously interdisciplinary work that makes an important contribtuion to the literature of complex adaptive systems. . . . [R]eaders who are interested in multidisciplinary issues will benefit from Vermeij's impressive breadth of knowledge. It is a pleasure to follow his articulate and synthesizing trek across the boundaries of conventional academic subjects."--Eric J. Chaisson, Quarterly Review of Biology

There are clear analogies between economics and biological evolution, but the thesis of this articulate essay is that both fields can and should be described in exactly the same terms in a single theoretical framework. . . . In successive chapters describing consumption of resources, competition, organization, environment and geography, evolutionary biologist Vermeij illustrates, with copious examples from paleontology, ecology, and economic history, the overarching common description of competition for locally scarce resources and differential success based on variation, leading to evolving adaptations and descent with modification."--Choice

"Geerat Vermeij . . . has taken economic reasoning even further, arguing in Nature: An Economic History that economists and natural scientists are asking the same kinds of questions in their seemingly disparate fields. . . . Vermeij makes a convincing case that thinking about large swaths of the natural world in terms of competition for scarce resources is both accurate and useful."--Andrew P. Morriss, Books & Culture

"Vermeij presents a natural history written in what he considers economic terms and argues that biologists should know more about economics. While the exchanges between economics and biology can sometimes be hazardous and misleading, quite a bit could be learned by economists from reading this book."--Joel Mokyr, Journal of Economic Literature

From the Inside Flap

"A hugely impressive, tremendously rich book that I read with admiration and fascination. One of the most interesting intellectuals of our age, Geerat Vermeij writes with verve and grace, and he is willing, indeed eager, to take risks in order to look at the (very) big picture. His book is chock-full of knowledge and wisdom as well as keen and succinct original insights. It will be widely read and admired."--Joel Mokyr, Northwestern University, author of "The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy

"Both ecological systems and economic systems are complex and adaptive, with self-organization and evolutionary change coupled in each; but the analogy is deeper, extending to the fundamental nature of how these systems are organized. This is the basic theme of Vermeij's masterful and scholarly book. From a biological point of view, Nature is a remarkable synthesis. Few people could have ventured out of their disciplines with such insights."--Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

"Fascinating. Above and beyond enriching our understanding of evolution per se, this engagingly written book, which I am very glad to have read, helps us think about where we as a species may be headed in the future. What more can you ask for?"--Kenneth Pomeranz, University of California, Irvine, author of "The Great Divergence

"An important and well-written contribution to evolutionary biology. Analogies between ecology/evolution and economics were 'subliminally' apparent to Darwin, many have developed particular analogies quite explicitly, and economists have looked to evolutionary biology to explain why human beings engage in irrational forms of altruism. Vermeij develops theseanalogies in a far more synoptic and comprehensive manner than anyone has before."--Egbert G. Leigh, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, author of "Tropical Forest Ecology


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 445 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069112793X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127934
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,772,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jake Keenan on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book begs to be reviewed. It is magisterial in scope, thesis, and evidence gathering. To read it is to follow along with the mind of a master. The book's title gives the thesis - to study nature's ecosystems as economies. Predator and prey are construed as consumer and producer. Ecosystems are compared as between different evolutionary eras, continents versus islands, and different climactic regimes to pull out principle relations among and between economies such as power. An easy sample: "Ecologically, this means that powerful entities are large, fast, wide-ranging, rapidly metabolizing units capable of exerting strong forces, storing and regulating resources, and responding appropriately to a wide variety of circumstances. Power makes for prolific producers and demanding consumers with a wide reach." (p. 124)

The book gave me the sense of the author's being onto something really important, but at the same time the thesis came off somewhat diffuse and without the punch of a mature new theory (why I gave only 4 stars). On the other hand the ideas and the evidence presented are dazzling. The author's specialty, animals with shells, especially came into view as a startlingly large and important group of organisms with great evolutionary variety of shell strength and design against various predators in different "economies." I try to imagine someone's reading it who is not engaged in the advances of evolutionary theory or in the massive new evidence being gathered or who is not intrigued with the biology/economics similarities. Often the animal stories version of natural history are there, but I am afraid that the abstract complexes of organisms dominate. Still, with work, an exciting book to be grateful for.
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Format: Paperback
My sense is that this book is a great book, great in the sense of significant or important, but I found the prose to be impenetrable. It was like wading through molasses: very tasty, but the effort, oh the effort! (I got halfway through Chapter 3 before succumbing to exhaustion.)

I give it 5 stars for content and 1 star for the writing, so the average is 3 stars.
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