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Nature: An Economic History

Popular Science

By: Geerat J Vermeij

445 pages, no illustrations

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Sep 2006 | #160400 | ISBN: 069112793X
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.99 $39/€34 approx

About this book

From humans to hermit crabs to deep water plankton, all living things compete for locally limiting resources. This universal truth unites three bodies of thought--economics, evolution, and history--that have developed largely in mutual isolation. Here, Geerat Vermeij undertakes a groundbreaking and provocative exploration of the facts and theories of biology, economics, and geology to show how processes common to all economic systems--competition, cooperation, adaptation, and feedback--govern evolution as surely as they do the human economy, and how historical patterns in both human and nonhuman evolution follow from this principle.

Using a wealth of examples of evolutionary innovations, Vermeij argues that evolution and economics are one. Powerful consumers and producers exercise disproportionate controls on the characteristics, activities, and distribution of all life forms. Competition-driven demand by consumers, when coupled with supply-side conditions permitting economic growth, leads to adaptation and escalation among organisms. Although disruptions in production halt or reverse these processes temporarily, they amplify escalation in the long run to produce trends in all economic systems toward greater power, higher production rates, and a wider reach for economic systems and their strongest members.

Despite our unprecedented power to shape our surroundings, we humans are subject to all the economic principles and historical trends that emerged at life's origin more than 3 billion years ago. Engagingly written, brilliantly argued, and sweeping in scope, Nature: An Economic History shows that the human institutions most likely to preserve opportunity and adaptability are, after all, built like successful living things.

Novel and intriguing... [Nature: An Economic History] offers a distinctive point of view and an insightful synthesis that promises to provide the basis of much future work. -- Douglas H. Erwin Science Vermeij is one of the master naturalists of our time, and his command of the subtleties of animal interactions is exceptional. I think anyone can learn a great deal from this book. -- Richard K. Bambach American Scientist Vermeij, a well-known paleontologist and observer of nature writ large, has written a marvelously interdisciplinary work that makes an important contribtuion to the literature of complex adaptive systems... [R]eaders who are interested in multidisciplinary issues will benefit from Vermeij's impressive breadth of knowledge. It is a pleasure to follow his articulate and synthesizing trek across the boundaries of conventional academic subjects. -- Eric J. Chaisson Quarterly Review of Biology There are clear analogies between economics and biological evolution, but the thesis of this articulate essay is that both fields can and should be described in exactly the same terms in a single theoretical framework... In successive chapters describing consumption of resources, competition, organization, environment and geography, evolutionary biologist Vermeij illustrates, with copious examples from paleontology, ecology, and economic history, the overarching common description of competition for locally scarce resources and differential success based on variation, leading to evolving adaptations and descent with modification. Choice Geerat Vermeij ... has taken economic reasoning even further, arguing in Nature: An Economic History that economists and natural scientists are asking the same kinds of questions in their seemingly disparate fields... Vermeij makes a convincing case that thinking about large swaths of the natural world in terms of competition for scarce resources is both accurate and useful. -- Andrew P. Morriss Books & Culture


Preface vii CHAPTER ONE: Economy and Evolution: A Road Map 1 CHAPTER TWO: The Evolving Economy 13 CHAPTER THREE: Human and Nonhuman Economies Compared 38 CHAPTER FOUR: The Economics of Everyday: Consumption and the Role of Enemies in Nature 59 CHAPTER FIVE: The Economics of Everyday: Production and the Role of Resources 92 CHAPTER SIX: The Ingredients of Power and Opportunity: Technology and Organization 121 CHAPTER SEVEN: The Ingredients of Power and Opportunity: The Environment 145 CHAPTER EIGHT: The Geography of Power and Innovation 169 CHAPTER NINE: Breaking Down and Building Up: The Role of Disturbance 204 CHAPTER TEN: Patterns in History: Toward Greater Reach and Power 246 CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Future of Growth and Power 292 Appendix 1: Abbreviations 317 Appendix 2: The Geological Time Scale 319 Notes 321 Literature Cited 371 Index 431

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Geerat J. Vermeij is Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis. As an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, he studies shells and the fossil and living animals responsible for building them. His books include "Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life", "A Natural History of Shells" (both Princeton), and "Privileged Hands". He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992.

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