The Rise and Fall of American Growth

The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War
Narrated by: Michael Butler Murray
Length: 30 hrs and 14 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (436 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Best Seller

In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 grew from 45 to 72 years. Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth provides an in-depth account of this momentous era. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end?

Gordon challenges the view that economic growth can or will continue unabated, and he demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 can't be repeated. He contends that the nation's productivity growth, which has already slowed to a crawl, will be further held back by the vexing headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government. Gordon warns that the younger generation may be the first in American history that fails to exceed their parents' standard of living, and that rather than depend on the great advances of the past, we must find new solutions to overcome the challenges facing us.

A critical voice in the debates over economic stagnation, The Rise and Fall of American Growth is at once a tribute to a century of radical change and a harbinger of tougher times to come.

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

©2016 Princeton University Press (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about The Rise and Fall of American Growth

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The book is a great review of how we got to where we are today

I loved the review of the industrial revolution and learning where various technological changes came from. His suggestions of how to increase American growth seemed pretty standard though. I was disappointed with that. It seemed like he just phoned in that part of the book. We've heard all those recommendations before. The book is worth the time though.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent Book, Too many charts for listening

I enjoyed this book, particularly the comparisons of life in the US before and after 1870.There are too many charts and numbers in this book to always allow one to only listen. Book was written to be read "in person" with numbers and charts available for viewing and reviewing. The performance was technically well done, but somehow off-putting and slightly irritating. Still all in all I listened to the entire book and am happy that I bought it.

3 people found this helpful

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Most of the major innovations already happened

Robert Gordon's is considered one of the key economists to contribute to our current understanding of productivity growth. His purpose is to tackle the problem of why productivity appears to have slowed down since the 1970s. Gordon's basic thesis is that during the Gilded Age most of the major innovations such as running water, basic health care, electricity, labor-saving devices in the home, and the automobile were one-time innovations that helped society leap ahead in terms of standard of living. But he contends that clusters of innovations of that magnitude are rare and most of the innovations we currently see cannot make the same degree of impact on our standard of living. Gordon's answer for how to improve our current status is a standard center-left policy basket of support for unions, progressive taxation, and the like.

The book is stuffed with detailed analysis of a huge range of data and it also provides rich accounts of everyday life from the Gilded Age up through the turn of the 21st century. The focus on data is necessary because his audience is other economists, historians, and policy makers; The vast data explorations are necessary for defending his thesis against intelligent criticism. Unfortunately the heavy emphasis on data the book does not make for scintillating listening since the comparisons he makes are much more accessible visually. Were he to have spent as much time on why current innovations are less impactful as well as exploring the trade-offs of his proposed policy solutions the book would have been more gripping. The narrator makes the most of it but there is only so much he can do.

2 people found this helpful

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Over-detailed, with no engaging message

What disappointed you about The Rise and Fall of American Growth?

If you are looking to get a critical, deep and informed view of american economy in last century, you should look for another book. This book is not the type that will leave you with any food for thought.

For instance the book goes literally pages and pages throwing an absurd amount of numbers, dates, percentages,... to just show how AC units become smaller and lighter in a period of two decades. A simple fact like this needs only one sentence or two, and then the reader is ready to get the writers message, if there is any. What happens with this book is that reader (listener) goes on and on trying to focus on long paragraphs of chart description and numbers and dates, waiting for the writer to sum it up and get to a conclusion, a view point or a critical thought on the issue, only to get disappointed.

The only message that the author has (and he iterates it over and over in different chapters) is this: The growth (in other words improvement in people's lives) has been huge in 20th century because the departure point was near zero, so any increase felt huge, but now that we are fairly advanced it is almost impossible to come up with such growth ( such improvement in people's lives) in such a short amount of time. For example, in a matter of 2 decades in early 1900s, flush toilets came to nearly all houses and that dramatically improved life expectancy (say 5 years) by eliminating water borne diseases. But now in 2000s if we want to increase life expectancy by same 5 years (having same "growth") it is not as easy as making a toilet, now we have to do cancer research instead.

I basically doubt if this is an important or valuable point of view anyways, but even if it was, it could be well developed in a 3 page article and did not need a 700+ page book.

This book is only good for you if you love details of how people lived in early 20th century, how daily tasks were done, how people worked, what the wore, what they ate...and so forth. but if you are looking for food for thought, you will be disappointed.

5 people found this helpful

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good book. OK audio book.

love economics and hearing about how the world has changed in the past 100 years. this book does rely on lots of charts and graphs so the listener is often lost following along but over all worth a listen.

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A useful discussion of long run trends

Few of us bother to think about how much life has changed in the past 200 years, how much easier our lives are than were the lives of our great grandparents.

This book chronicles and quantifies the vast improvements in technology that have greatly improved living standards, even well beyond what standard economic measures might indicate.

A downside to the audio version is that the book is very numbers-oriented-- which is ordinarily fine with me -- but counterproductive in an audio format.

An excessively polemical tone also mars the book in many places. I would not begrudge the occasional political view from an author of such a book but the author overdoes it, not just disagreeing with but ignoring reasonable contrary views and interpretations of the data. At times the author simply cherry picks arguments that support the point that he wants to make at the given time. For example, the author implies that the existence of a sex-based wage gap despite the majority of females in college (since 1980) implies that sex discrimination is still an issue. Then, just a few pages later, the author makes the correct point that there is great heterogeneity in the market rewards to various college majors -- e..g, engineering vs. sociology. Of course, the second point is correct but is ignored when the author wants to push the sex discrimination argument.

1 person found this helpful

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Important work

This is excellent economic history that manages to take lots and lots of data tables and charts and render them entirely accessible in an audio book. The author manages to connect economic change to real life in a clear and powerful way. I’ve taught this era of us History for over twenty five years and I knew of just about all of the technological developments he covers, but don’t think I ever fully grasped their significance till now. Certainly, I understand things differently now. One factor that might put some off is that there is a fair amount of repetition. However, I think it works well - he carefully lays out a thesis for each chapter, develops it, and ten reviews it. If you want to understand economic history, this is one way to get the information to stick.
His basic argument is that the changes in standard of living between roughly 1870 and 1940 were a one time revolutionary event in human history, and that the economic growth that persisted until 1970 was a result of those changes settling in. Since 1940 technological innovation has continued, but without the same impact on daily life as before (ex. Cars are a lot better today than in 1940, but nowhere near the difference between a horse and a car/ a 2018 refrigerator is much better than a 1940 fridge, but the difference is not as great as an icebox and the 1940 electric fridge, and so on). For our time, he makes compelling arguments about the headwinds threatening economic growth and sees rising inequality as the major threat. He makes a number of carefully considered policy proposals. This is important work.
The performer is generally very good, but he has the annoying habit of trying to use accents when reading quotes - this is farcical when attempting foreign accents and I have no idea why we think people I the 1800s sounded so odd. The bottom line is that this isn’t Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and most people listening to a book on the historical development of the standard of living are not expecting to be entertained. But that’s my only complaint - he’s very good when reading straight text and makes it almost a conversation with the listener - just drop the accents.

1 person found this helpful

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Needs an abridged version.

This was an interesting concept and extremely well researched. I'm glad that this book exists. However, unless you are way nerdy about this sort of thing, you will wish that there was a shorter version. I feel like the argument could have been made for the laymen in half the time or less. Thankfully I could just advance the track by 30 seconds whenever it got into the weeds too much. Great book, unfortunately no one will read it since it's so darn long.

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Read this (but don't listen to it)

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

No way; though I would certainly recommend they *read* this as a print book. Too many charts, graphs, and data sets to be able to coherently follow on audio, especially if you're driving or really doing anything other than visualizing the graphs they're discussing.

If you could give The Rise and Fall of American Growth a new subtitle, what would it be?

Why It's Time to Reset Future Expectations and Reframe Past Understandings

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent study

Gordon does a masterful job in presenting extreme complexity without simplification. He makes a case for the one time growth window of 1870-1970 and, in almost sheer poetry, cites everything from haircuts to train tickets demonstrating the forces of productivity.

1 person found this helpful

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  • carla
  • 11-15-17

Good book; monotonous reading

The book is very interesting, amazingly full of facts and interesting descriptions, although one may disagree with the interpretation.
As to the narration,why must the person read as if they were imitating a computer? is that Audible policy?
But my biggest complaint is that you offer a pdf with all the graphs and tables referred to in the book, but I have not been able to download it. Where is it available? Who knows!

2 people found this helpful