5.0 out of 5 stars So much info, so easy to read, a rare combination!
William Bernstein is an excellent economics and business writer. I have read several of his other books, including "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk." He is also a very savvy writer on investment theory. Bernstein has the ability to teach and write about technical concepts in the most accessible way. "The Birth of Plenty" is no exception. This book...
Published on July 15 2004 by Gaetan Lion
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars BAD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE
I rushed to the local bookstore to pick up a copy of Birth Of Plenty, heralded by publicity of its entirely new premise and potential to create an altogether new category of books. Needless to say after my rating of two stars that I am disappointed by how old and repetitive most of the arguments in the book were. The four reasons focused on by the author for economic...
Published on April 3 2004
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars BAD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created (Hardcover)I rushed to the local bookstore to pick up a copy of Birth Of Plenty, heralded by publicity of its entirely new premise and potential to create an altogether new category of books. Needless to say after my rating of two stars that I am disappointed by how old and repetitive most of the arguments in the book were. The four reasons focused on by the author for economic progress never coincided onto 1820 or even that century but put into place slowly over a millennium, as human progress could not be held back any longer. It is certainly not a new premise, not by a stretch, for the following reasons.
First, any good economist or historian could tell you that Economic History 101 has always talked about the turning point of 1820-not a new premise at all. No economic historian of note has evidently reviewed the book. Indeed, Angus Madison remains one of the most celebrated economic historians for precisely his findings on these issues, the man cited by William Bernstein. So does Charles Kindleberger.
Second, and most disappointing were the four reasons why economic progress took off. None were really created around 1820 and did not come together for the first time in 1820 either but much sooner. Even the transportation revolution had occurred with maritime discoveries and shipping. Railroads (the focus of the date of 1820) and cars are really the next phases of the same evolution. Further, property rights were in existence long before the nineteenth century. And most of the reforms in property rights (including bankruptcy reforms and security asset innovation) LAGGED economic progress rather than caused it.
Third, the book focuses on scientific progress. Here is a classic chicken and egg reasoning in a book that purportedly is supposed to resolve that dilemma. The author simply ignores the incredible economic boom of colonization in the three centuries preceding his takeoff date, a colonization made possible precisely with science.
A third reason focused on by the author was securities market innovation but the book ignores the fact that virtually all securities innovation came decades after it should have been due, not before. Certainly the stock markets and IPO were innovated in 1602 not 1820, so the author is short on explaining why the delay when all his four factors existed before.
Then the book relies on the transportation revolution. It has to of course because 1820 marks the advent of the Century of Railroads in the United States. Here again is a chicken and egg problem. It also does not acknowledge how James Watts' watching his mom's kettle ties into any macro issue it cites.
All in all, the book is interesting to someone who has not studied Law 101, Economic History 101, History 101 or the thousands of books on the ascent of Western Civilization. Perhaps the promise by the book of creating a new category all its own may have added to my disappointment but this book is far from innovative, and perhaps even incomplete relative to most books that handle this subject. For those who have studied elementary histories of Western civilization or economics, this will have to be the most repetitive and pretentious book in recent memory.
5.0 out of 5 stars So much info, so easy to read, a rare combination!,
This review is from: The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created (Hardcover)William Bernstein is an excellent economics and business writer. I have read several of his other books, including "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk." He is also a very savvy writer on investment theory. Bernstein has the ability to teach and write about technical concepts in the most accessible way. "The Birth of Plenty" is no exception. This book covers such a breadth of subjects regarding economics, political science, history from the antiquity to nowadays.
His theory is not unique. The countries who prosper are the ones who give their citizen the right to own their property, to communicate freely with each other, to practice the scientific method to replace outdated traditional knowledge, and to take business risk with other people's money. In summary, the countries who prosper are the ones who allow individuals to reap the fruits of their risk-taking efforts. These are not new and original ideas.
After all, there is a long list of economics writers who pretty much said the same thing starting with Adam Smith back in 1776 in the "Wealth of Nations." More recently, Hernando de Soto wrote about the exact same subject in "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else." Also, David Landes' book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor" adopts the exact same theory as Bernstein's. My list could go on an on. This is because it is a subject that fascinates and never gets exhausted.
Even though all the above books are excellent and some are true classics in comparative international economics, Bernstein's book shines because it is so much more readable, accessible, and entertaining to read. While the others come across as dull economics professors, Bernstein comes across as an incredibly lively journalist. He turns his treaty on economics history into a real page turner giving David Browne's "Da Vinci Code" a run for his money [in the page turning department]. Thus, by reading this book you will learn just as much if not more than the other books I have mentioned, and you will have so much more fun.
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read of developmental economics,
This review is from: The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created (Hardcover)Read this book and you have about 3/4 the content for a developmental economics class. However there is no mention of welfare economics which is about 1/4 the remaining content of a development economics class. There is also no mention of "micro-lending"-lending small amounts of money to poor third-world people, which have remarkable results for lifting poor third world people above poverty. I'm not about to disclose the thesis of this book because only the individual can decide is a book is efficacious. With that said, my opinion is that this book is a good worthwhile read. While I am fairly well read in economics and I learned a few things reading "Birth of Plenty". The mind set of 18th century Europe makes one wonder what were those royals thinking? They were way off their thinking about how to grow the wealth of their nations. Also the there is now new data that William Berstein shares with us with new insight.
The book is well written, the structure of the book is clear, the author has a point and it is clear.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful blend of history and macroeconomics,
5.0 out of 5 stars What made Prosperity Happen,
Dr. Bernstein - you can see more of his thinking at his website -- [...] -- says that there are four conditions necessary for this kind of development/growth: Property Rights (where advances are not confiscated by the government), Scientific Rationalism (remember Galileo put under house arrest for the absurd belief that the Earth goes around the Sun), Capital Markets (with some honesty), and a working Transportation/Communication system (so you can sell what you make).
He brings up some very interesting points, on the relationship between culture and religion. It has been obvious that the differences between Christian Europe and the impoverished Muslin world are immense. His view is that this is not because of the religion, but of the basic underlying culture. Well worth your time.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of Prosperity,
The author cites four ingredients: Property rights, scientific rationalism, capital markets and improvements in transportation and communication. He identifies when and how, beginning in the 1820s, each played an accelerating role in our growth.
Bernstein's examination of the role these effects had on people's personal lives adds to this book's value. By identifying the causes of our prosperity, Bernstein provides the reader with a personal platform to assess where we are currently headed.
Surprisingly, the author argues progress has been slowing since 1850. The average resident of the Western world alive in 1950 would have no trouble accepting the technology of the year 2000. This was not the case in 1800. The horse was the fastest moving object then. By 1837, the telegraph's instant communication changed the world forever.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World,
5.0 out of 5 stars the back cover blurbs,
By A Customer
"Bill Bernstein has given us a compact and immensely readable economic, political, military, and institutional history of our civilization that is a tour de force. Put everything else down. Take a deep breath. Open The Birth of Plenty. And prepare to be amazed."
"The Birth of Plenty is a brilliantly written, whirlwind account of how the modern world was formed. It is a hugely enjoyable read, full of vigor and liveliness, and a book every American should possess--at least those who treasure our abundant life and care about our future."
"Put simply, this is my favorite economic history book. It gathers what is interesting about economic history to draw important lessons."
"William Bernstein scrutinizes the research literature, distills it with originality and insight, then shares the results with classic Bernstein clarity and wit. Ideologues on both political wings should prepare to have their assumptions challenged."
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and delightful,
5.0 out of 5 stars What the other Bernstein says,
By A Customer
"Bill Bernstein's erudite history of the causes and consequences of growth grasps the main issues and keeps them up front all the way through. This book is a great magnifying glass for studying the complex world of today."
I agree- I think The Birth of Plenty is one of the most important books of the year, and I recommend it highly to anyone trying to understand our time.
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The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created by William Bernstein (Paperback - June 21 2010)
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