Summary of A Farewell to Alms

A Brief Economic History of the World

Princeton UP, more...

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A Farewell to Alms book summary
How culture explains the wealth and poverty of nations.


10 Overall

8 Importance

10 Innovation

9 Style


The topic of this thrilling book, 20 years in the making, is nothing less than the history of civilization, from the Neolithic Revolution to the Industrial Revolution to today. Rather than relating history as a story of kings, Caesars, popes, prelates and presidents, Gregory Clark tells the story through economic data, much of which is the result of his own analysis of documentary evidence. Almost every other page contains a beautiful graph, table or chart illuminating some dimly lit bit of history. And Clark’s detours are almost as wonderful as his main argument. His writing is elegant and clear, his sense of humor present but not annoying. While this book has outraged some commentators, it’s hard to see why, given the caution with which Clark presents his conclusions. Most likely, the flash point is his stress on culture as enabling and retarding economic growth – views that sometimes get wrongly equated with racism. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone who wants to quantitatively enhance his or her conception of human history.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why there was little economic progress before the Industrial Revolution;
  • What caused the tremendous economic growth in 19th-century Europe; and
  • Why some countries are now so rich while others remain so poor.


Romantic Age or Stone Age?
Imagine for a moment life in 18th-century England. Perhaps such scenes come to mind as the one Sir Joshua Reynolds depicted in 1789 in his painting, The Braddyll Family. A woman in a flounced skirt sits with her lapdog on an ornate chair. Her husband...
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About the Author

Gregory Clark, an economic historian, is chair of the economics department at the University of California, Davis.

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