The Great Delusion by Steven Stoll
A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth

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Synopsis

Endless economic growth rests on a belief in the limitless abundance of the natural world. But when did people begin to believe that societies should—even that they must—expand in wealth indefinitely? In The Great Delusion, the historian and storyteller Steven Stoll weaves past and present together through the life of a strange and brooding nineteenth-century German engineer and technological utopian named John Adolphus Etzler, who pursued universal wealth from the inexhaustible forces of nature: wind, water, and sunlight. The Great Delusion neatly demonstratesthat Etzler’s fantasy has become our reality and that we continue to live by some of the same economic assumptions that he embraced. Like Etzler, we assume that the transfer of matter from environments into the economy is not bounded by any condition of those environments and that energy for powering our cars and iPods will always exist. Like Etzler, we think of growth as progress, a turn in the meaning of that word that dates to the moment when a soaring productive capacity fused with older ideas about human destiny. The result is economic growth as we know it, notas measured by the gross domestic product but as the expectation that our society depends on continued physical expansion in order to survive.


 

About Steven Stoll

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STEVEN STOLL is an associate professor of history at Fordham University and the author of Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America (H&W, 2002). His writing has appeared in Harper's, Lapham's Quarterly, and The New Haven Review.
 
Published September 1, 2009 by Hill and Wang. 236 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, History. Non-fiction

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Ideas influence behavior, Stoll reminds us, and Etzler’s life has a clear message for us today: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” An erudite, entertaining historical deconstruction of the modern economic world.

Sep 01 2008 | Read Full Review of The Great Delusion: A Mad Inv...

Bookmarks Magazine

In The Great Delusion, the historian and storyteller Steven Stoll weaves past and present together through the life of a strange and brooding nineteenth-century German engineer and technological utopian named John Adolphus Etzler, who pursued universal wealth from the inexhaustible forces ...

Oct 26 2008 | Read Full Review of The Great Delusion: A Mad Inv...

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