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Publisher's Summary

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:

  • China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?
  • Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?
  • What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?

Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2012 Daron Acemoglu (P)2012 Random House

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

Incredibly insightful

Brilliant insights into how undemocratic regimes create perverse incentives that suppress progress. Powerful, hope-engendering implications for foreign aid and development programs if they can reform their unproductive current methods.

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It feels old

If you could sum up Why Nations Fail in three words, what would they be?

A very good research about origins of poverty in Africa and Latin America but so terrible explaining China development and more terrible forecasting the rise of Brazil

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The good research about the spanish Colonialism how doomed for the coming years all the countries in Latin America

Have you listened to any of Dan Woren’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Never forecast

Any additional comments?

Very good book , awesome perfomance , a little bit difficult to the narrator to spell so many Names and Institutions in different languages ( Spanish , French , Afrikaans and Chinese).<br/><br/>The book feel old in the last chapters , specially trying to forecast the decline of china and the rise of Brazil

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  • Story

Great but a little long

The actual thesis of this book could be explained in full detail in about 2 hours. The rest of the book is just historical examples to illustrate the thesis. All the historical examples help make his point, but I do think they run on a bit to long, and maybe a bit too much focus on England. The thesis was a great framework for looking at political systems, but he didn't seem to offer any practical value in using it. If you enjoy learning about the political history of a multitude of different nations, then this is a great read. If you just want a quick answer to the question "Why nations Fail?" Then I would just look look up a summary for this book. it's a simple and elegant answer, it is just mixed in with 20 hours of historical examples in this book.

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Well researched and insightful

The author did his homework. Excellent background information. Also consider "Collapse" by Jared Diamond for in depth observations of selected civilizations. Easy listening at 1.6 speed.

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  • Michael
  • Klemzig, Australia
  • 05-31-17

Well researched and well read

Why Nations Fail is one of the better crash courses in history to read because you know what you are learning has meaning behind it.

I personally think you should read the Dictators Handbook first or watch the CPG Grey YouTube video The Rules for Rulers as that explains an even better understanding from a slightly more zoomed out view. This book acts like the compendium or background / further reading.

There is so much history covered and in a more enjoyable way than boring history class that I highly recommend it just for that reason, especially with the way America and China are going right now.

FYI the answer is that Nations fail because extractive, absolutist polticial institutions create extractive economic institutions and those funnel wealth into the hands of a very small elite.

The nations that do better at thriving have inclusive, pluralistic polticial processes that foster inclusive economic institutions and those are better for more people.

Basically it's politics that matters the most and getting politics for the most people that matters.

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Long winded, highly idealized

What disappointed you about Why Nations Fail?

I am about a quarter through the book and I'm thinking of abandoning it. I have two problems with it:<br/><br/>1) It is incredibly long-winded. The authors make the same few points over & over & over. This should probably have been a long journal article, not a book.<br/><br/>2) Their view of the United States is insanely idealized. The United States is perfect! If only every other country could be like the United States, why, everyone would be living in paradise. I live in the United States and, to my mind, it more resembles the Aztec and Inca empires the authors discuss, with huge bureaucracies living off the backs of a struggling population. Of course, one of those huge parasitic bureaucracies is the mis-education industry, so perhaps the authors are doing very well and feel life is good. Good for them, but please don't generalize from your own cushy and sheltered existence to the rest of the population.<br/><br/>In case you think I'm just being cranky, compare the discussion of the US banking industry in this book with a much deeper, and more critical discussion in Fragile By Design. It's like day and night. We did just have a monster banking crisis, only the latest of many, so you decide who is right. In fact, if you haven't read Fragile By Design, I'd suggest you skip this clunker and try that book.<br/>

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Highly recommended to people who ask why

I would recommend this book to people who question countries places in the world. Definitely a counterpart to Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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Essential reading

I do not say this often but this book is a must read. The authors go over the more recent history of civilization, that post the dark ages of Europe and tackle the important question of why certain nations in Europe in particular and the world in general ended up prosperous. The key, they say, is having an appetite for creative destruction. Whenever one group becomes too powerful, they start molding political institutions so that their financial means are secure, at the cost of innovation. The authors say that the way to achieve this is via inclusive institutions like democracy.

I considered docking a point for what I consider a lack of scholarship and intellectual integrity in this book. I found their critique of Guns Germs and steel and Why the west rules for now very lacking. Instead of realising that those books fundamentally talk about different time periods, and that some factors are stronger than other factors under different contexts, their argument against those books are quite facetious and makes me doubt that they even read those books. Similarly, they champion inclusive institutions a little too hard in this book. In many of their examples, there were obvious other factors which should have been stronger than their thesis, they handwave around instead of tackling the issue head on. This work is lacking in sincere scholarship, which is quite disappointing.

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Great Book

understanding why Nations fall is understanding why Nations fail.
green and lack of economic institutes is on top of the pyramid.

the book starts with the Arab Spring and then text you all over the world from the Maya in South America 2 North Korea South Asia and Africa.

it's a long book but its worth while.

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Excellent read, highly recommend

A great book highly recommend, provide an incredibly comprehensive look throughout history of the key factors and Nations succeeding or not, in an accessible and interesting manner. should be required reading for all students of Economics history international relations and development.

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  • Lee
  • 12-06-14

Not really what the title says

What did you like best about Why Nations Fail? What did you like least?

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.

Would you recommend Why Nations Fail to your friends? Why or why not?

No, too long, too boring, to badly read.

Would you be willing to try another one of Dan Woren’s performances?

Not based on this.

Any additional comments?

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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>If economic history interests you, then worth a look, but if you want to understand why nations fail, look elsewhere.

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  • Demirep
  • 06-24-14

Fascinating stuff

Would you listen to Why Nations Fail again? Why?

I intend to listen to this again. There is so much information that a second reading would be essential in a few months. However, this will be more of a duty than a pleasure because I often found the reading style irritating.

What other book might you compare Why Nations Fail to, and why?

This is a unique book. I have read (or tried to read) other books on economic theory but none so readable and in my opinion, none so based in the real world.

Did Dan Woren do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

Dan Woren did not do a good job. He got through the admittedly difficult concepts well enough but became gratingly irritating with the many non-English pronunciations. He started off reading Spanish words and names so authentically that I had trouble making out some of them, he then tried to pronounce African or Arabic names with a slight Spanish accent, obviously thinking that this would make it more authentic--it did not and it often resulted in the emphasis going on to the wrong parts of the words. When he got to the Chinese names, Woren gave up altogether and used the standard English approximations. The result was a ridiculous patchwork which reduced the effectiveness of what the authors had to say. The various subjects of this book's focus range all over the world and since Woren obviously does not have a comprehensive command (or even knowledge) of the huge variety of languages involved--and I cannot blame him for that--he should have stuck to a uniform English pronunciation throughout. I cannot say, though, whether this was Woren's fault or the director's. Certainly the director has to bear some of the responsibility for this mish-mash.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

the mystery of poverty explained...

Any additional comments?

I'm glad I heard it.

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  • John Owen Byrne
  • 01-28-14

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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • M
  • 12-28-13

too long and repetitive

If you could sum up Why Nations Fail in three words, what would they be?

I suppose it is repeating so that the listener gets the message.<br/>they repeat the message so much that I got sick of hearing it.<br/>but because it gives so many answers I give it 5 stars.<br/>

What does Dan Woren bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

he held my attention.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

stop trade protectionism.

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  • rebecca
  • 08-08-16

A book everyone should read/listen to

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

The complexities of how politics, economics , history and sociology affect the forming and falling of every nation on earth is explained in a way that is both easy to understand and engaging.<br/>Anyone who ever felt frustrated about the state of the world or baffle by politics should read this book which proves when it comes to nations it's not what you have but what you do that counts. <br/> Truly a masterpiece

What was one of the most memorable moments of Why Nations Fail?

learning that having too many natural resources (the curse of oil holds back most of middle east from innovation) can be damaging to a nation state

What about Dan Woren’s performance did you like?

the clear explanations were not patronising but informing

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rami
  • 07-05-16

Well researched and incredibly informative.

As a beginner to this topic this title answered nearly all of my questions comprehensively. a true eye opener. Definitely give this one a go.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 05-10-16

Highly misleading

Does not include the role developed countries play in undermining the development of inclusive institutions in developing countries post- independence (neo-colonialism)

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Di
  • 08-04-14

Disappointing and painfully boring

I usually do not write negative reviews but having listened to the whole book, I am surprised of the positive reviews. Perhaps it would have been different if I was to read the printed version, where I would have been able to skim read through some of the chapters. Most of all, I found this book extremely boring to listen to, very repetitive, and what I distaste the most is that the logic was flawed, and wrong. The author was drawing conclusion and assumptions, using historical events and facts, but jumping from one country to the other, and one age to another, with no particular connection, order or timeline. The action-consequence link is missing, and although I cannot vouch for all of the historical references, but some of them were either biased, or not completely the true account of events for that age. It is true that the author is merely presenting a theory, and perhaps there is some evidence to support that extractive vs inclusive institutional arrangements bear great influence on the progress or decline of nations. But it felt like he was picking a number of historical references, not necessarily linked, but just because they were convenient to use as examples. Examples do not make for a theory, it is the logic that holds a theory together! I am willing to accept some of his valid assumptions. However, because of the flaws in his logic and evidence, the bias of his Americanized point of view, and because he did not take into account a number of factors, apart from political and economic, such as socio-cultural, which are of as much importance, I could not make myself to side with his theory.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful