Harvard professor of history and economics David S. Landes offers a sweeping look at the complex interplay between wealth and cultures -- across the centuries and around the world. Now in paperback, this bestseller explores historical puzzles such as how China, so far ahead of the West for millennia, lost out to Western industrialism and why geographically strategic and lush regions like Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind more developed nations. It's a broad, complex, and important work.
Landes (Revolution in Time), Harvard professor emeritus of history, undertakes an economic and cultural history of the world during the past five centuries. His well-written, sometimes witty analysis is the kind of work one wants to pause over and reflect upon at each chapter before moving ahead. Landes's principal argument is that the richest nations continue to prosper while poorer nations lag behind because of their relative ability or inability to exploit science, technology and economic opportunity. In every casefrom ancient China to modern Japanhe maintains this is largely the result of national attitudes about a myriad of cultural factors. Landes traces the story of England's industrial revolution and America's system of mass production as indicators of the West's superiority over the rest of the world. Some of his historical illustrations are thought-provoking: for example, the importance of air conditioning to the development of the New South in the U.S. and the impact of a lifetime of eating with chopsticks on the manual dexterity of Asia's microprocessing workers. Most of all, Landes stresses the importance of cultural values, such as a predisposition for hard work, open-mindedness and a commitment to democracy, in determining a nation's course toward wealth and power.