Wow...what a mind! Ridley, darn his hide, has written the book I wanted to write! Observations and data abound about how life is simply BETTER for most sentient creatures than it has ever been on planet earth. While far from naive, Ridley understands that current abiities to TRADE and SPECIALIZE are the keys to prosperity. The sections on environmental policies and the astounding level of wrong headedness in the "green" movement are worth the price of the book. Counterintuitive, reasonable, rational, articulate...Ridley may change your mind about what it means to be alive in the 21st century. And about how "green" basic, but wrong, ideas like eating local, renewable resources, and biofuels are.
Amazing History of Trade would sum up the book in ~3 words. But it is so much more. Ridley shows the many false starts of civilization and explains why trade is the key to creating wealth. Why were we stuck in the stone age for 50,000 years? Why did Sumer and other early civilizations fall. How did wealth lead to the substitution of human labor for animal labor in Japan? Why was the bureaucracy of the Ming Dynasty such a disaster? Why did England succeed so radically? This book answers all these and more. This is better than a degree in history. Instead of memorizing what happened, you learn why it happened.
Beautifully written, accessible and lively account of the underlying factors that have governed human development, the factors that seek to undermine it and why we have cause for optimism about our future.
This is a wide-ranging book which uses economic, historical and biological evidence to cast doubt on the perpetual doom-mongers that dominate popular discourse.
A fundamental strength of this book is that it explains the mechanism underpinning growth, innovation and prosperity. Few people have a grasp of this mechanism and, so he argues, they underestimate its ability to improve our well-being and argue for policies which harm or undermine its operation.
This is not a simplistic ideological book of the Right. In fact, he is critical of some aspects of capitalism and envisions a future world that follows Marx's principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need'. An enlightening and thought-provoking book.
The only disappointment was the narration. There were some shockingly bad mis-pronouncations which seemed to suggest that the narrator knew nothing or cared little about what he was reading.
Excellent way to see the positive side of human progress in standard of living.
The book shows how true progress has been made by the human race. The caveman never had it better, and couldn't, even considering pollution and myths such as the gental caveman or modern increase of cancer rates.
Though climate change is not completely dismissed, some layman falsehoods are introduced at the end of the book after saying more than once that he would "get to climate change in a later chapter" of the book. He also dismisses "science" as the source of "most" improvements in standard of living. This is true socially. But then goes on to describe the process of science (hypothesis and experiment) as the way humans learn and improve technology all while saying that this is not science. His point is much more narrow in intension that what comes accross, which may be guessed to be: science in the academic environment rarely leads to improvements in standard of living. This he proves well and I agree with but doesn't explain well.
What drew me to the book was the premise of the title and an excellent wired article by the author providing a synopsis of the book and my rational, skeptic and optimist mindset. After reading the book in it's entirety I was left feeling cheated and annoyed by the tone of the book.
This book's author does not take a rational dispassionate view. It is skewed heavily into American republican free-market ideology. If you want to have a fun solo drinking game, take a drink every time the following right-wing keywords and phrases pop up: "Government is bad", "taxes are bad", "academics are elitist", "Media is liberal and elitist", "Environmentalists are wackos", "the only answer is a free and unfettered market", "bureaucrats are parasites", "United Nations is bad"...I guarantee that you will have alcohol poisoning before you finish the book.
The central premise of the entire book is that commerce (trade) is the one and only factor in past, present and future human well being and prosperity. This point is drilled into you over the entire book with many examples and facts. Many of them well written and convincing. However, any point to the contrary, any problems raised by trade and capitalism is refereed to in a derisive, condescending manner with few facts and many unsubstantiated arguments.
All of this is a shame because at the core of the book there is what I believe to be a cogent and true statement, that there are many reasons to be optimistic about humanities future. It's just too bad that the idea is not presented in a rational manner.
That book brought me to a revelation. He points out how mankind is unique in that we continuously build upon and leverage knowledge of past generations to in effect improve our standard of living. He also points out how great innovations most commonly come not from scientists but from entrepreneurs who look at existing processes or methods and revise, combine, etc to develop new tools and technologies. The revelation is this. Despite our very serious debt problems, I think that the next couple of decades will likely actually bring an unprecedented upswing in opportunity and prosperity (in particular in the US where business friction is actually the lowest). The internet is still quite new. When I started college, uvm still had card catalogs in the library! The effort required to find information was absurd. The access that people now have to information and accumulated wisdom of past generations is phenomenal. It’s an explosion. Information and knowledge are the fuel for innovation. There’s a lot of fuel and there’s a lot of innovation coming.
this book is a must-read. well-written, concise, and really puts things in perspective. intelligent and uplifting.
I highly encourage people to entertain the ideas of this book especially as we listen to the news daily, read our daily blogs, and surf the web for ideas that give us positive hope rather than the widespread doom and gloom ever present in media today. Lots of references to studies that show research was conducted in this optimistic view of how we (humans) got to be so well off and how much better we have yet to become. I did not per say enjoy the tone quality of the author and at times the tone grated me...however the information was useful and viable in debating with naysayers in all circles.
The imperious tone gets to be obnoxious after a few hours, making it less easy to buy the contrarian arguments laid out. The affected narrator makes this tone even more obnoxious. It is possible to disagree with people without sounding so proud. Many sweeping generalizations are made without specific support, further weakening the book's message. This is, however, a worthy read for liberal minds, if only because the contrarian book lacks the venom of most right-leaning books.