Summary of The Birth of Plenty

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The Birth of Plenty book summary


8 Overall

5 Applicability

8 Innovation

8 Style


Gertrude Stein called Ezra Pound, "a village explainer," and said that was fine if one happened to be a village. Author and historian William J. Bernstein is an explainer, so put on your village thinking cap. This sprawling book skips over a broad surface of economic history, theology, sociology, engineering, politics and mechanics, like a flat pebble over a smooth pond. Readers with scant grounding in these disciplines can still have a good time as they gaze slightly slack-jawed at this colorful, fast-moving assemblage of facts, theories and prejudices, all mixed, mingled and as surprising as a carnival parade. Readers who know these subjects, on the other hand, will relish the sweep of Bernstein’s saga even if they balk at the inevitable simplifications, exaggerations, contradictions and foggy facts that result from compressing world economic history into 400 pages. Bernstein arranges his history around the four pillars that, he says, support continual economic growth: property rights, the scientific method, capital markets and communications. Given that framework, his presentation is logical and lively. liked this entertaining read, which is imbued with a history buff’s excitement.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Some factors affecting how the world economy developed over the course of history;
  • Why certain countries are richer than others; and
  • The central importance of property rights, the scientific method, capital markets and communications.

About the Author

William J. Bernstein, Ph.D., M.D., is founder of the popular Website He is also author of The Four Pillars of Investing and The Intelligent Asset Allocator.



The Hypothesis
Clearly, some parts of the world have more wealth than others. The United States is quite rich, for example. Mali is quite poor. England is extravagantly well off in comparison to Turkey or Yemen. Luxembourg is richer than Laos. France is better off than Bolivia. Why?

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