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David S. Landes, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor"
W. W. Norton | ISBN: 0393040178 | 1998 | 650 pages | siPDF | 13.1 MB
A towering work of history examining the world's most pressing problem—the growing gulf between rich and poor. For the last six hundred years, the world's wealthiest countries have been mostly European. Late in our century, the balance has begun to shift toward Asia, where countries such as Japan have grown at astounding rates. Why have these dominant nations been blessed, and why are so many others still mired in poverty?
The answer lies in this important and timely book, where David Landes, taking his cue from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, tells the long, fascinating story of wealth and power throughout the world: the creation of wealth, the paths of winners and losers, the rise and fall of nations. He studies history as a process, attempting to understand how the world's cultures lead to—or retard—economic and military success and material achievement.
Countries of the West, Landes asserts, prospered early through the interplay of a vital, open society focused on work and knowledge, which led to increased productivity, the creation of new technologies, and the pursuit of change. Today's new economic winners are following much the same roads to power, while the laggards have somehow failed to duplicate this crucial formula for success. The key to relieving much of the world's poverty lies in understanding the lessons history has to teach us—lessons uniquely imparted in this groundbreaking book.
Professor David S. Landes takes a historic approach to the analysis of the distribution of wealth in this landmark study of world economics. Landes argues that the key to today's disparity between the rich and poor nations of the world stems directly from the industrial revolution, in which some countries made the leap to industrialization and became fabulously rich, while other countries failed to adapt and remained poor. Why some countries were able to industrialize and others weren't has been the subject of much heated debate over the decades; climate, natural resources, and geography have all been put forward as explanations—and are all brushed aside by Landes in favor of his own controversial theory: that the ability to effect an industrial revolution is dependent on certain cultural traits, without which industrialization is impossible to sustain. Landes contrasts the characteristics of successfully industrialized nations—work, thrift, honesty, patience, and tenacity—with those of nonindustrial countries, arguing that until these values are internalized by all nations, the gulf between the rich and poor will continue to grow
From Publishers Weekly
Landes (Revolution in Time), Harvard professor emeritus of history, undertakes an economic and cultural history of the world during the past five centuries. His well-written, sometimes witty analysis is the kind of work one wants to pause over and reflect upon at each chapter before moving ahead. Landes's principal argument is that the richest nations continue to prosper while poorer nations lag behind because of their relative ability or inability to exploit science, technology and economic opportunity. In every case—from ancient China to modern Japan—he maintains this is largely the result of national attitudes about a myriad of cultural factors. Landes traces the story of England's industrial revolution and America's system of mass production as indicators of the West's superiority over the rest of the world. Some of his historical illustrations are thought-provoking: for example, the importance of air conditioning to the development of the New South in the U.S. and the impact of a lifetime of eating with chopsticks on the manual dexterity of Asia's microprocessing workers. Most of all, Landes stresses the importance of cultural values, such as a predisposition for hard work, open-mindedness and a commitment to democracy, in determining a nation's course toward wealth and power.
Nowadays, attempts to explain the disparities between rich nations and poor ones are an invitation to controversy, but this is a question Landes has been investigating for most of his career. He is a Harvard history professor and the author of "Technological Change and Development in Western Europe, 1750–1914," a major chapter in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, later adapted for (and constituting the subtitle of) The Unbound Prometheus (1969). Landes intends "to do world history" and unhesitatingly throws down the gauntlet of Eurocentrism, arguing that "the historical record shows, for the last thousand years, Europe... has been the prime mover of development and modernity." Mining details from the panorama of world events throughout time, Landes uses examples from science, technology, medicine, commerce, the military, and cultural mores to make his case. Landes' analysis will provoke and stir discussion; his 70-page bibliography will prove to be an invaluable research, reference, and collection development aid.
From Kirkus Reviews
An enormously erudite and provocative history of how wealth and power became so unevenly distributed between the West and the rest of the world. How did China, years ahead of Europe in technology and exploration, lose its advantage in the 17th century? What led Great Britain to set the pace for the Industrial Revolution? Why have Latin America, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa lagged behind more developed nations?
Such questions, while of momentous import, hold potential for both political correctness and Western chauvinism. In truth, Landes (emeritus professor of history at Harvard; Revolution in Time, 1983) verges close to the latter. Yet one cannot help admiring his breadth of scholarship as he glides smoothly through geography, religion, economics, technology, politics, and war. Western Europe (and later America), he contends, led the way in economic progress because of its curiosity, toleration, and loose restraints on commerce, while other areas fell behind because of xenophobia, religious intolerance, bureaucratic corruption, and state edicts that stifled enterprise. He details, for instance, how Moghul misrule enabled Robert Clive to find a Hindu ally who helped him seize India, and how Argentina, despite abundant natural resources, fostered a low rate of savings and fell into a pattern of dependency on Europe and America.
Landes's examples are dense in detail, yet he also leavens his arguments with elegant ironies (e.g., on Ottoman encouragement of enterprise by minority communities: "In despotisms, it is dangerous to be rich without power"). However, while Landes labels as "groupthink" some historians' objections to capitalism, imperialism, and the "Black Legend" of conquistador misrule, he also ignores questions that call into doubt his contention that toleration spawns innovation (e.g., British hostility to Catholics did not impede progress in the U.K., nor did the kaiser's authoritarianism retard Germany's industrialization before WW I). Sometimes too airily dismissive of legitimate challenges, for all that, never less than scintillating, witty, and brilliant.
Tags: History, WorldPolitics