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The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

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The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

What determines if a country rich or poor? For starters, check the climate, the geography and the history of innovation.

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Editorial Rating



David S. Landes has written an extraordinary economic history that will open your eyes about countries’ economic flops and good fortune. He also covers what makes a country achieve - and keep - great economic success. The book will appeal not only to economic history buffs, but also to the average person who needs to know how to keep a company or a country from economic trouble. Not to mention, he offers lots of great cocktail party anecdotes to impress your friends. Landes builds on solid economic data, but his unusual factual nuggets and vivid commentary are what make the book such a pleasure to read. In an age where politicians seek to make sure America stays economically relevant amid huge trade friction, believes this book is a must-read for not just the chief executive officer, but for the rank-and-file workers who want to make sure they will be winners, not losers, in international trade. Landes has cooked up a great feast of economic history. Come, draw up a chair to the table and partake of this rich bounty.


A Whistle Stop Tour of World History

World history highlights societies that have done the best at building business, and the ones that remain best at it. These societies followed the prevailing currents of technological advances and became more modern, as seen in the following pivotal historic events.

A Case in Point

In 1836, Nathan Rothschild, perhaps the wealthiest person on the globe at the time, died of a relatively minor infection that his era’s best doctors could not cure. Today, any ordinary person could readily get a simple medication to cure such a condition. Medicine has taken great steps during modern history. Consistently, greater science and greater sanitation have helped people live longer by allowing them to avoid disease. In the mid-nineteenth century, people could easily catch gastrointestinal infections in any ordinary bathroom facility. Clothes were all made of wool; the very absence of easily washable, changeable underwear and the lack of toilet paper helped spread disease, since people were not aware of the importance of hand-washing. Jews and Muslims, whose religious beliefs required them to wash, tended to live longer since such practices...

About the Author

David S. Landes is professor emeritus at Harvard University. His previous books include Bankers and Pashas, The Unbound Prometheus and Revolution in Time.

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