David Landes
"The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" (1999)

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
This is a confusing book. Landes starts out by explaining civilization through geography and climate. He explains the advantages that made Western Europe an ideal place to prosper (as opposed, for example, to tropical areas). His proof is weak at best. There was little that made southern Italy the ideal place for the birth of an empire. Nonetheless that's where the Roman Empire started. And so forth. He handpicks the factors that matter using a lot of hindsight to prove that something happened because those factors mattered.

The facts that he lays down are sometimes truly intriguing. For example, the fact that Latin America was richer than or at least as rich as the USA. Two hundred years later, Latin America was way poorer than the USA. This is also one case in which his explanation is convincing (the British colonized their territories, the Spanish only sent men to conquer, administer and loot them).

This is pretty much the only case in which Landes' theories work. Elsewhere he is unconvincing, again, because he handpicks what counts and where. For example, he claims that gender discrimination accounts for the failure of Arab economies. Maybe. But women are not any better in Japan or in India. Landes even seem to blame Islamic terrorism on gender discrimination. Then shouldn't we have suicide bombers all over India too?

Landes does not offer a cohesive view of what makes a country richer than another. And the reason is that, probably, there are so many factors at play that such a rule does not exist: each country was created by a long sequence of events, many of which were crucial in shaping its destiny.