Common Wealth vs Bottom Billion & Global Deal

24 Nov 2009

In Common Wealth, economist Jeffrey Sachs covers a lot of ground, emphasizing the need to tackle diverse problems—health, environment, inequality, and more—all at the same time.

However, there’s nothing hugely original here, and it’s been covered elsewhere in more compelling ways. Also, Sachs takes on a professorial tone far too much of the time, telling the readers how things are, without much indication of how he arrived at these conclusions.

Economist Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It is the exact opposite in this regard. But instead of simply telling you how things are, he tells you how he went about his research, when the findings were surprising, when the data is poor, etc.

In the course of covering these studies, he covers the big issues and tries to find solutions to intractable problems—especially how to help the poorest of the poor, particularly in Africa. Collier’s approach seems far more realistic—and, to me, more inspiring, because I was convinced of the policy prescriptions he comes up with, unlike with Sachs’s book.

Also, Sachs’s writing is clunky. An example: “Climate change is a truly global problem: Every country shares some responsibility, albeit to a widely varying degree, for the rise in CO2 emissions, retrospectively (bringing us from the preindustrial 280 ppm to 380 ppm today) as well as prospectively.”

If instead you read Collier’s Bottom Billion along with Nicholas Stern’s book on climate change, The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity, together they address most of the same problems as Sachs’ book. But they’re much easier to read and give more convincing answers of what we can do to tackle these problems. And Collier’s plus Stern’s book is about the same number of pages as Sachs’ book, so that two-book combination is at least as easy to read.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »