• Slouching Towards Utopia

  • An Economic History of the Twentieth Century
  • By: J. Bradford DeLong
  • Narrated by: Allan Aquino
  • Length: 20 hrs and 13 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (108 ratings)

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Slouching Towards Utopia

By: J. Bradford DeLong
Narrated by: Allan Aquino
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Publisher's Summary

From one of the world’s leading economists, a grand narrative of the century that made us richer than ever, yet left us unsatisfied  

Before 1870, humanity lived in dire poverty, with a slow crawl of invention offset by a growing population. Then came a great shift: invention sprinted forward, doubling our technological capabilities each generation and utterly transforming the economy again and again. Our ancestors would have presumed we would have used such powers to build utopia. But it was not so. When 1870-2010 ended, the world instead saw global warming; economic depression, uncertainty, and inequality; and broad rejection of the status quo. 

Economist Brad DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia tells the story of how this unprecedented explosion of material wealth occurred, how it transformed the globe, and why it failed to deliver us to utopia. Of remarkable breadth and ambition, it reveals the last century to have been less a march of progress than a slouch in the right direction.

©2022 J. Bradford DeLong (P)2022 Basic Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Brad DeLong learnedly and grippingly tells the story of how all the economic growth since 1870 has created a global economy that today satisfies no one’s ideas of fairness. The long journey toward economic justice and more equal rights and opportunities for all shall and will continue.”—Thomas Piketty, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

“What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong’s masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper. Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”—Christina Romer, University of California, Berkeley

“History provides the only data we have for charting a course forward in these turbulent times. I have not seen a more revealing and illuminating book about economics and what it means in a very long time. Slouching Towards Utopia should be required reading for anybody who cares about the future of the global system, and that should be everyone.”—Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Take a tour of Brad DeLong’s mind palace

If you already follow Brad DeLong’s work, you have some idea of what you’re getting into. If you don’t, know that he is a quirky and original thinker and a bit of an eccentric. Not easy to pin down intellectually, though solidly a liberal (in both senses of the term). The book is good as history, though not great. Where it excels is in conveying the author’s singular way of organizing vast quantities of information. DeLong has a handful of heuristics he uses to interpret the world, and this book is largely an exercise in self consciously deploying those heuristics at world historical scale. It certainly has an effect on the way I think about pre-modern societies and subsistence level poverty, and what it meant for humanity to escape “the Malthusian trap.”

The weakest points — and some of the strongest points — occur during DeLong’s occasional tangents. Sometimes you get wonderful little biographical anecdotes of historical figures that delight and enlighten. Other times you get excessively detailed extensive descriptions of battlefield strategy that have seemingly no connection to the big (economic) ideas that undergird the book. These flaws are excusable though. This will probably be regarded as a classic in decades to come.

4 people found this helpful

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A clear but sometimes one-sided economic history

A fun book, well researched, well written, lofty, and comeplling. The narration was also excellent. I found the better parts of the book to be those dealing with 19th century and early to mid 20th century history whose telling was more objective. To his credit, DeLong acknowledges the difficulty in recounting contemporary events without some bias, especially when one was on the stage and not in the gallery.

What I disliked was a failure to consistently articulate right-leaning thought. This is done very well in the first half of the book, but the narrative too often drifts from dialectic to eristic. For example, thinkers on the right would say that the dissolving of traditional values, community institutions, and personal accountability (largely enabled by social programmes that remove consequence for bad choices) is a leading cause of market failures and a major contributor to income inequality. In one breath the author decries neoplatonic quests for utopia while in the other holds the free market up against a measuring stick of equal market outcomes (a utopian fantasy which many on the right reject).

Chapter 13 was particularly spurious, employing, whether intentioanl or not, many instances of intellectual slight of hand and some disingenuous chacterizations which are just thinly veiled partisanship. One minor example is the inferrance that racism is the only explanation for a increasing effort increase election security. Another example was when DeLong is describing the Reagan economy as a "self-evident failure" of market capitalism, he chalks the disastrous outcomes of social democracy in the 1970s as simply "bad luck". These kinds of inconsistencies undermine all that is great in this book and make it difficult to reccomend to a less discerning reader.

1 person found this helpful

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oversimplified

author uses way too many generalizations to be useful. uses oversimplified history to support thesis.

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Lugubrious reading of a mess of a book

I have never in my life listened at 1.9x, but that’s what this performance needed. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a performance remotely as slow. It’s bizarre.

The book is a mess. DeLong is brilliant but all of these ideas were presented better years ago in his blog and lecture notes. The book is scattered, meandering, repetitive. He plunges down rabbit holes he likes (microprocessors!) and drops threads abruptly never to be seen again (industrial laboratory research? Corporate management?). It’s written at an undergraduate level and will largely bore anyone who reads it because they want a DeLong-quality argument rather than a superficial greatest hits. Really a pity his editor was so lax.

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what is utopia

First time author for me. Since the author is a professor it's no surprise this book reads like a textbook. The takes a look at the world from 1870 to 2010 and ties together all the different things going on in the world and points out why the world can hardly get out of its own way in making live better for the multitudes, which is his definition of utopia.

The author believes and communicates that the challenge of the world, countries, leaders, economics, etc goal should be to make the world a livable place for all, enough food, shelter and opportunity to that everyone has a decent life. He pulls together many of the historical happenings of this time and writes how it all moves forward for the most part but with many steps backwards along the way.

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The big picture of political economy expertly drawn

Superbly well-informed grand narrative that tackles some big questions, like why is the global south poorer than the global north, what are the sources of economic growth, why did so much prosperity emerge after 1870 and why did the world throw so much of it away in the world wars? What’s the best way to manage a modern economy? And many more. His approach is broadly center left, but he grinds no axes and hews to no political line. He’s very critical of both Reagan’s neoliberalism and Obama’s response to the 2008 crisis, for example. I guess Keynes is his hero. But he gives every major school of thought it’s due. He believes not in ideology or historical necessity but in contingency and the influence of key thinkers and decision makers. An exciting story that makes you hope our leaders will read it and can figure out the keys to general prosperity in the future.