Although I have the deepest admiration for Jane Jacobs, a national treasure (of two countries!) and the author of an all-time classic book -- "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" -- I have to say that I found "The Nature of Economies" to be a real mixed bag...actually kind of a letdown.
First, I have to agree with other reviewers who found the "dialogue" in this book to be almost laughably bad. I mean, obviously no human being would possibly speak this way ("in sum," "to repeat," "to be sure") with friends -- or anyone else, I would hope! Second, the whole Socratic dialogue, pedantic monologue format here can get very tiresome at times. In fact, it's so bad that even its own characters keep nodding off! Third, most of these ideas, although interesting, are nothing original (as Jacobs' extensive endnotes prove), although obviously Jacobs has done a great deal of reading, and has synthesized or at least summarized other peoples' ideas fairly well, and that is nothing to sneeze at. Fourth, and more problematic in my opinion, is the high degree of abstraction, and apparent lack of practical utility, with much of Jacobs' ideas. I mean, it's fascinating and all that human economies are part of nature, but what are the real-life policy implications here? OK, so central planning is bad, but does that mean that Jacobs is in favor of an extreme laissez-faire capitalist approach by government? (I doubt it) Is Jacobs so optimistic to believe that if we just let things run their natural course, that everything will just all work out for the best? If she does believe this, is it naiveté or brilliance? Or is this just a bunch of Panglossian nonsense? After reading this book, I have to say that in many ways I have no idea exactly WHAT Jacobs is getting at here. Worst of all, "The Nature of Economies" begs the most important question, namely, WHAT ARE ECONOMIES FOR (Jacobs' unsatisfying answer - economies are for everything and everybody...huh?!?)?
Having said all of this, I still think the book is worth reading, mainly because it is filled with interesting, thought-provoking ideas - whoever came up with them - two of the biggest ones being that humans (and their economies) are part of nature, and that the more they "biomimic" (imitate nature) the better off we will all be. Of course, the counterargument to mimicking nature is that nature isn't just a bed of roses, so to speak! As the curmudgeon character Armbruster puts it, all this happy talk of "cooperation, symbiosis, interdependence" seems to ignore the fact that nature is very much "red in tooth and claw." Instead, it ends up sounding "like a barn raising," not the nasty survival of the fittest ("and the devil take the hindmost" in Armbrusters' words) that is part and parcel of nature, as much as we try to romanticize or ignore it. I DO very much like Jacob's emphasis on the benefits of a complex web of interrelationships, and also on the importance of working ALONG with natural principles, not against them. In general, Jacobs' view that life at its best is a hustling beehive (or tropical rainforest) of activity and diversity, as in the crooked streets and serendipitous mixings of a thriving city, is strong and positive. I also agree with her that non-serendipitous, sterile suburbia, with its de facto separation of different kinds of people - rich/ poor, white/black/hispanic, gay/straight, etc. (see the 2000 US Census for proof of this), its often de jure separation of commercial (and cultural) activities from residential areas, and its monocultures of identical houses in subdivisions surround by wide, fast, straight roads (which serve to reduce pedestrian traffic, force utter dependence on automobiles, and prevent healthy development of community), is not good at all, and simply maintained by massive government subsidies (of roads, gasoline, utilities, etc.).
So, the bottom line is that - even in her 80s -- Jane Jacobs still has a lot to say and contribute, even though she said it far better 40 years ago. So, sure, read "The Nature of Economies," but even better, go back and read (or reread) the Jacobs' classic work - "The Death and Life of Great American Cities!"