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About the Author

David S. Landes was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 29, 1924. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1942. He received a master's degree in history in 1943 and a Ph.D. in history in 1953 from Harvard University. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army and was assigned to show more the Signal Corps because he had been taking mail-order courses in cryptanalysis. He worked on deciphering Japanese messages about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. He later worked on a history of German preparations for the invasion of Normandy. His dissertation, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt, became his first book. His other works included Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, and Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses. He taught at numerous universities during his lifetime including Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard University, where he retired in 1996. He died on August 17, 2013 at the age of 89. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: L'historien américain David Landes à Paris en décembre 1987

Works by David S. Landes

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Landes, David S.
Legal name
Landes, David Saul
Date of death
Country (for map)
New York, New York, USA
Place of death
Haverford, Pennsylvania, USA
Places of residence
Haverford, Pennsylvania, USA
City College of New York (AB | 1942)
Harvard University (MA | 1943 | PhD | 1953)
economic historian
Landes, Richard Allen (son)
Postan, M. M. (teacher)
McKay, Donald C. (teacher)
Cole, Arthur H. (teacher)
Usher, A. P. (teacher)
Landes, Sonia (wife)
Harvard University
University of California, Berkeley
Columbia University
Economic History Association
Society for French Historical Studies
Economic History Society (President, 1976-77) (show all 13)
Societe d'Histoire Moderne
Association for the Study of Middle East and Africa
American Historical Association
Koninklijke Academie van Belgie
Accadémia dei Lincei
Gesellschaft für Sozial-und Wirtschaftgeschichte
United States Army (1943-1946)
Awards and honors
Corresponding Fellow, British Academy (1977)
Fellow, Royal Historical Society
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1967)
Fellow, American Philosophical Society (1982)
National Academy of Sciences (1983)
Academia Europaea (1997) (show all 8)
Leonardo da Vinci Prize (2004)
First Laureate, Prix Européen du Livre d'Economie (2000)
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
Short biography
David Landes received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1953. He taught economics at Columbia University (1952-58) and economics and history at the University of California, Berkeley (1958-64) before returning to Harvard as a professor of history in 1964. He has taught at Harvard ever since as professor of history (1964-72), Roy B. Williams Professor of History and Politics (1972-75), Robert Walton Gallet Professor of French History (1975-81) and Coolidge Professor of History (1981-1997), Emeritus (1997-). Early on, Dr. Landes established his reputation through studies on nineteenth century French and German banking, the best known of which was a study of French investment in Egypt. He is the author of numerous books, including The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe, 1750 to the Present (1969), The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1998), Revolution in Time (2000), and Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses (2006). In addition to his distinguished career at Harvard, Dr. Landes also presided over the Economic History Association and chaired the Council on Research in Economic History. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1982. David Landes died August 17, 2013, at the age of 89 in Haverford, Pennsylvania.



I read Landes and Diamond in tandem: why are different societies so different. They should be read in tandem. Diamond offers biological and geographical reasons for the differences in civilizations and their rate of "evolution." Landes notes societal and cultural differences for the differences in civilizations and their rate of "evolution." Both are correct and both are wrong in certain areas.
tuckerresearch | 18 other reviews | Jun 30, 2022 |
A massive account of world political and economic history, from the title setting out to explain why some countries (mainly the West) became wealthy, while most of the tropical "third world" remained poor. The trouble with such attempts is that they often descend to post-facto rationalizing. Almost any factor can be seized to "explain" the differences, and counter-examples can be found for any single cause-and-effect hypothesis. So the book amounts to not much more than a chronicle of historical events, with some speculations on the role of religion, on national character, climate and natural resources, and so on. It is difficult even to account for differences between parts of the West: why did the "industrial revolution" develop most robustly in Britain, for example? The author, refreshingly, tend to eschew "political correctness", and calls out deficiencies in the ruling mores and values in society, and challenges attempts to always blame some other entity or force; the positive message being, presumably, that it will be possible for any country or region to pull itself up economically, if policy is oriented to long-term improvement rather than to immediate indulgence in conspicuous consumption.… (more)
Dilip-Kumar | 18 other reviews | May 18, 2022 |
This marvelous book weaves an informative narrative on the history of nations and how they achieved their current(1998) status in the world at large. Thus we hear a lot about the dominance of Japan with their Gemba Kaizen and just-in-time production methods. It also explores a great number of other countries and why they didn't lead the way, so to speak.

For instance, take China. China invented and developed so many things back in the olden days, but never made real use of them. So they developed paper and block printing, but where was the literacy back in 1100 AD or so? So they managed to find the uses of Gunpowder, but they didn't find a more efficient formula for cannons and guns. This was all explained by the government and how it stifled creativity and drive for anything. The emperor decided what was good and bad, and a number of toadies decided who got to see the emperor. Even back in the time of Europe's rise to dominance, they did nothing but languish in the past. The thing that broke this was clocks and watches. Everything else was considered foreign trash or old news.

Thus Europe led the way with improved ship building techniques and navigation and such. When they went places they desired knowledge and trade. They wanted dominance too, of course. This was fueled in many ways by how they did things in the mother country. Take Spain for another example. They founded the "New World" and conquered the greatest nations in the Americas. The Aztecs and the Incas had much in terms of gold and silver, but this was a huge detriment to Spain. Since they received all of that specie, they went and bankrupted themselves; several times. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it doesn't actually improve the state of the nation all that much. They rested on their laurels and didn't develop new ways of farming and manufacture. Thus, by the 1600s they were already woefully behind.

Anyway, this book was really good, but somewhat out of date. Still, since it discusses the history of economics, it can be learned from.
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Floyd3345 | 18 other reviews | Jun 15, 2019 |
I stopped reading it during the inventions chapter. The size of the book and amount of information and opinion were too much to bother...
CassandraT | 18 other reviews | Oct 10, 2014 |



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