Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?
Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?
Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions - with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.
Based on 15 years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:
Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.
©2012 Daron Acemoglu (P)2012 Random House
"Why Nations Fail is a truly awesome book. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle one of the most important problems in the social sciences - a question that has bedeviled leading thinkers for centuries - and offer an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity and power. A wonderfully readable mix of history, political science, and economics, this book will change the way we think about economic development. Why Nations Fail is a must-read book." (Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics)
"You will have three reasons to love this book: It’s about national income differences within the modern world, perhaps the biggest problem facing the world today. It’s peppered with fascinating stories that will make you a spellbinder at cocktail parties - such as why Botswana is prospering and Sierra Leone isn’t. And it’s a great read. Like me, you may succumb to reading it in one go, and then you may come back to it again and again." (Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the best sellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse)
"A compelling and highly readable book. And [the] conclusion is a cheering one: The authoritarian ‘extractive’ institutions like the ones that drive growth in China today are bound to run out of steam. Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary." (Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money)
I think, this book comes around to a very likely conclusion.
It effectively analyses why many other suggestions about this may be wrong. Very enligthening and highly recommended.
For anyone who is curious about why wealth and advancement takes place in some countries, while fails to do so in others. The book takes a historic view of economic and political development, contrasts all corners of the globe, and provides rich context. One learns new things and questions long-held assumptions. Critically important reading to understand our world, especially the challenge of raising standards of living for all.
Why nations fail is a fascinating book . I have been intrigued by the distribution of wealth around the world and have been seeking answers. While I picked up jared Diamond's book I dont think I got anywhere close to the answer.
In my opinion this book nails the reason for economic disparity. The key words are pluralism, inclusive, economic, political systems.
While this book nails it; it may not be the right book for you. The authors take several examples and go through each one of them in excruciating details. Now if history is your cup of team then sure you would enjoy this book; else the key messages of inclusive political and economical institutions are repeated throughout the remainder of the book.
One of the best books I've read in years. If you liked Guns, Germs, Steel... you will love this sweeping look at economic history. Enlightening and extremely thought provoking, punctuated by fascinating examples of why nations fail and succeed from all points in human history and across all continents.
Guns, Germs, Steel. Rational Optimist. Ascent of Money.
Well narrated. Great reader.
I have traveled since my youth and have speculated for many years about the reasons that we (USA) have it all and most of the world has so little. Everyone seems to have a ready explanation- tropical diseases, cultural deficiencies, native flora and fauna unsuitable for domestication, environmental devastation, or exploitation of the poor countries by the wealthy ones. Although some of these factors certainly play a role, there are counter-examples that disarm them all in in many cases. I am convinced that this book has an explanation that stands up in just about every case. Further, it is an explanation that squares with evidence readily observable during one's own travel. Although the explanation offered here is generalized and must by qualified for each specific case, I can enthusiastically recommend the book as a thoughtful overview of this important question.
This is my top book - ever. I'm an immigrant to the US and read one book a week, and over 30 years that's a lot of books. I'm not sure that this book will be so compelling for US born Americans - but it certainly could be. Comprehensive and complete. Maybe a little long and disjointed for some listeners - but not for me. I loved every moment! Go Brazil!
Perhaps "The man who loved China"... or "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" - both of which explored sweeping changes throughout history. This book is more though - it exposes the interweaving social systems that cause history to unfold as it does
Dan is a non obtrusive narrator. A master of the craft.
No. Too many sections and stories to savor and digest.
I have 3 teenagers - and these 2 landmark books - "Why Nations Fail" and "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture" would be my first 2 additions to their "education". I know better than to suggest them though (the education of parents through experience :)
Book repeats itself again & again. Authors need an editor to trim all that verbiage & trash those unnecessary sentences. A reader's digest condensed version should make this book readable.
Learn to write more pithily.
Came highly recommended but quite disappointing. Beats each point to death. Redundant reiteration of summary point to ad nauseam.
I like to listen on what makes nations work. This book covers that subject from an economic perspective.
Great insight based upon historical examples. Explains what no one else (to my knowledge) has even attempted. It is a "Politically Correct" explanation of the incredible failures of countries and their stagnation over centuries and millenia. It does NOT put a feel-good "liberal" slant on the clear facts of history. A very long book that flows through history!
Very encompassing in that it covers all civilizations and eras. Does not compromise the facts and principles presented. I kept expecting a "surrender" for Mao, Chavez, Liberals, Socialists, Democrats, etc., The authors stuck to principles without pulling punches, or compromising, and did it very professionally without degrading the idiots and marauders of history or their present day acolytes.
Pace, understanding ... no mistakes
The Preceding History that Led to Atlas Shrugged
Outstanding effort of time and intellect of the authors is GREATLY APPRECIATED!
"History made science"
Breathtaking sweep across time and geography, flying along on the coat-tails of a theory that is so intuitively acceptable that it almost makes you say 'duh'. A society's institutions, extractive (bad) or inclusive (good) explain the wealth of the society and the health and happiness of the common man (and, if you are really lucky, woman). I hated history at school because it didn't explain: just one damn thing after another. This does, right up to the end where they use their theory to predict the future success of current societies. It explains why 'state building' (e.g. in Afgahanistan) is such a challenge. The UK (a pioneer in modern state building) got properly started on the process in 1215, brought in universal education in about 1890 and gave women the vote in 1928. Mind expanding book.
"Brillianr explanation of the World we see today!"
Why Nations Fail is one of the most thought provoking books I've ever listened to.
This book explains in detail the reasons why we see the world as it is today. British, and in particular English creativity and entrepreneurism are at the heart of the story and describes how the actions of those people who wrestled power away from English elite society in the 17th century changed the face of the world for ever.
Well worth a read if you want to know why the USA succeeded to become the most powerful country in the world and didn't end up as just another failed state.
the authors repeat the same argument over and over, stretching vast amounts of historical examples to fit it's frame.
The reflexion is weak and unconvincing, thus the authors resort to an aggressive and patronizing rhetoric to dismiss other theories regarding the disparity between nations. They seem particularly threatened by Jared Diamonds Gun, Germ and Steal, and rightly so.
Although they would have us believe that we are responsible for our own misery or prosperity because of the institutions we live by, they then admit that there is no reason for one set of institutions to appear in one place rather than another, their explanation being a parallel between their theory and evolution, small institutional differences brought forward by crisis.
there is no proper causal description, at best a messy pile of historical examples correlated with economic development. Whatever argument worth mentioning could have been said in a few paragraphs
the fact that the authors are so pleased with themselves render the all experience rather unbearable.
"Repetitive, but interesting."
As has been said - repetitively - by other reviewers, this is a very repetitive book. And not just thematically. If you removed the words "inclusive", "extractive", "institutions", "glorious revolution of 1688" and ”creative destruction" the book would be about 9 hours shorter. It's still quite interesting (especially when they zoom in on specific histories, like with Botswana, Uzbekistan and Brazil, about which I knew nothing) and I kept going to the end, but the Grand Theory being espoused doesn't seem all that remarkable, unfortunately. (It can be summarised as: If your public institutions are strong enough to stop the gangsters from getting in charge, you're probably going to be okay, if not, you're screwed.) So, not bad, but not brilliant either. (Did I mention it's repetitive?")
"Great companion to Diamond's work"
This is a fantastic contrast to Jared Diamond's work on the origins of poverty. This should be required reading for anyone interested in the real sources of inequality. There is a slight danger in the book where anything that happens which is not consistent with the overall thesis becomes a 'contingency' of history. That said, the arguments are convincing and beautifully told.
"Thought provoking and lots of interesting history"
The core idea is brilliant.
The examples from world history are fascinating.
The discussion of past theories on the subject are thought provoking.
When in the UK the elites were whigs and Tories, they actually decided to live by the rule 'of' law. This was because of the history in regard of the the fact that the ECW and glorious revolution were revolutions against absolutism, as opposed to just another elite. It was also because of the fact that there were now many more paws in government, so it was harder for the Whigs not to just become another set of elites.
It might help if the reader knew the basics of English history.
It is a truism that "for every complex question there is a simple answer, and it's wrong". The authors attempt to reduce nearly all of social and political history to a single proposition about whether societies develop inclusive or extractive institutions. While I've no doubt this is a significant factor, I doubt very much that it is the only one, and I suspect it is not even the most important. As other reviewers have noted, the text is rather laboured and repetitive, and would benefit from some redaction.
I would recommend Niall Ferguson's Civilisation instead. It bears comparison because it is also aiming to explain why some nations have been more successful than others. It is similarly somewhat simplifying and selective, but Ferguson identifies six separate factors, which is surely much more plausible than one. It is also more lively and interesting to listen to.
Clear and detailed argument put forward
Looking back in hindsight at how much new knowledge I have gained from listening to it.
Great book, I highly recommend
"Interesting only as a history book"
Interesting only as a history book. The assumptions of the writers are in most cases based on an one sided interpretation of historical events and they are missing some very obvious points.
"Not really what the title says"
It's an interesting look back at the history of how many of the world's richest nations came to be that way, but that's not really what the title says it's about. It doesn't highlight why nations fail, only how the successful ones got where they are.
No, too long, too boring, to badly read.
Not based on this.
There are books that you can’t put down and there are books you can’t wait to end. This was the latter for me.
The experience started badly in fairness. The opening chapters are a deluge of information and facts that come at you in an endless tirade with barely a pause for breath (literally in the audio version). Dan Woren reads the words legibly enough (if with some odd pronunciations to British ears), but so quickly and with so little emphasis on important points as to make it overwhelming.
After being bamboozled at the start, I found myself often having to skip back and re-listen to sections because I’d tuned out. I’m not sure if that was down to the laconic voice or the unengaging content.
Don’t let the title fool you either, this isn’t about why nations fail. It’s a history lesson in why some countries are rich and others poor in the modern world. It charts everything from the Glorious Revolution in England, to the exploitation of South America by the Spanish, to the rise of China.
Their argument is simple enough: inclusive institutions. By that, they mean political and social institutions where the people have a say, be that laws to insure the state can’t simple take what you have built, or democratically elected officials.
That’s not a reason why nations fail, its a reason why they don’t have long term stability, which generally seems to come along with prosperity, education and free discussion, looking at the examples stated.
I’m reading a similar book, Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, which delves into far more detail about the reasons nations fail to get out of poverty, and provides much greater insight.
Why Nations Fail is actually a history book, a look back at how various countries navigated their way into the top tier, or at least put themselves on the path towards it.
The book doesn’t attempt to provide answers, other than ‘because they don’t have inclusive institutions.’ It’s an interesting look back at the reasons certain things happened in particular countries, although each of those can only go so deep. It really only serves to highlight how little any of them shared.
If economic history interests you, then worth a look, but if you want to understand why nations fail, look elsewhere.
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