The Rational Optimist

The Rational Optimist

How Prosperity Evolves

Book - 2010
Average Rating:
Rate this:

"Ridley writes with panache, wit, and humor and displays remarkable ingenuity in finding ways to present complicated materials for the lay reader." -- Los Angeles Times

In a bold and provocative interpretation of economic history, Matt Ridley, the New York Times-bestselling author of Genome and The Red Queen, makes the case for an economics of hope, arguing that the benefits of commerce, technology, innovation, and change--what Ridley calls cultural evolution--will inevitably increase human prosperity. Fans of the works of Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel), Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money), and Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) will find much to ponder and enjoy in The Rational Optimist.

Publisher: New York : Harper, c2010.
ISBN: 9780061452055
Characteristics: 438 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jan 09, 2018

Less a book than a well organized series of semi-polemical essays; if one doesn't already agree with his conclusions or are least quite open to reconsidering one's own opinions (in the same direction as the author argues), I suspect most readers will find it a frustrating book. My frustration was only that I was not anticipating a polemical work and ended up getting one. This book should (would?) be a great antidote to those who are consumed with fear over water, poverty, agricultural production, climate change, disease, and all the other things glorified beggars try to frighten us with to separate us from our money (ostensibly for addressing the problem they aim to solve, but more for their own status (and wealth: many of these 'executive directors' of charities (!!) earn top %1 incomes and take 3 months of vacation (and have the gall to hire management firms to make decisions for them, at the donors' expense, of course))). I should add that there are many great charities out there, but they are small, poorly branded (if branded at all), and not participants in the development-quango industry (racket). The book is also helpful in providing historical perspective (such as comparative crime and disease rates), and in outing the semi-scientific Jeremiahs and their rhetorical techniques and proven errors for which they've never even apologized for (Ehrlich and L. Brown). Lengthy notes and thorough index, but no bibliography (though it is online, as mentioned by the author).

Dec 31, 2017

“If this goes on…” by 2030, China will need more paper than Earth produces… we will run out of petroleum (of course)… we will be crowded, starved, polluted, ignorant; and the few survivors will be poorer than dirt to the end of their days. True enough, says Ridley. But the big “if” never obtains because the world is constantly changing, improving, getting better. “If this goes on…” fails because “this” never “goes on” but in fact is altered by something unexpected. Yes, there are dark ages, plagues, famines, and wars, but generally, since the invention of trade about 18,000 years ago, our lives have gotten exponentially better. Taking a word from Austrian economics, Ridley calls this “the great catallaxy.”

The book opens with a photograph of a stone hand ax and a computer mouse. Both fit the human hand. The stone tool was made by one person for their own use. Thousands of people made the mouse and no one of them knew how. From the petroleum for the plastic to the software driver, each person did one thing; and it comes to you in exchange for the one thing you know how to do. The maker of the hand ax enjoyed nothing they did not get for themselves. (Among homo erectus including Neanderthal, it seems that both males and females hunted by the same methods.) The hunter-gather was limited to their own production – and so could not consume very much. We enjoy unlimited access to the productive work of others. Each of us has, in effect, hundreds of servants; and would be the envy of any warrior, peasant, chief, or king for our cheap, easy, and sanitary lives.

Each chapter begins with a graphic showing the exponential improvement in life span, health, prosperity, and invention. Another one shows the hyperbolic fall in homicides and yet another shows the dramatic decline in US deaths by water-borne diseases. Ridley examines barter and trade (“the manufacture of trust”), the agricultural revolution, urbanization, and the invention of invention. Each turn of the page overturns a common assumption. Just for instance, shopping for locally produced food more often results in less efficient use of petroleum; and, of course, it penalizes farmers in poor countries.

redban Sep 04, 2014

The problem I have with this book is simple: yes, there is a strong case to be made that cultural acceptance of traditional forms of violence (homicide, rape, torture) has improved, evidence of human progress. So if Ridley or Steven Pinker [Better Angels of Our Nature] wants to examine how important human progress is in this context, than I would find that agreeable. However, both authors then start pushing their scope, getting into modern warfare, nuclear proliferation, and climate change. I found Pinker's analysis of nuclear proliferation to be surprisingly paltry, and I'm baffled by Ridley's views on climate change. Both authors support scientific progress, which is admirable, but when they expand their topic to the aforementioned issues, they lose so much more than they gain. And we haven't even gotten into the historical and current state of Finance/Corporatism (although Ridley has to admit failing miserably here after stepping down as chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock, which collapsed).

Jun 09, 2014

This is not for the 'Chicken Little's' of the world. Various topical interests are examined in light of a positive frame of mind. References are interesting, and seemingly relevant. Fear mongers won't like this book.
Optimists are genetically disposed; and only 20% of us maybe so disposed; we trend to pessimism, why?'Gusher of Lies': wheat growing 40% faster in carbon enhanced climate, Some data is out of date; for instance sunlight into hydrogen is already a fact.The uselessness of aid ('Dead Aid'; and a success story in Botswana), Oetzi even comes in for a mention, and surprises, he killed, as he was killed.'On Kindness'; on remembering cheaters, biological psychiatry, 'Why we are better off than we think', What makes countries successful: property rights - some suggestion that BC and USA's rules on property confiscation may be self-defeating, without even mentioning these, and so on. All sorts of positive stuff; with supports from CATO, and other diverse entities (so, as with all such to be read with ones salt shaker handy)

Nov 06, 2010

This is the type of book everyone should read. It not only proves that the state of humanity has greatly improved, it explains how this prosperity came into being. Ridley is no pollyanna (hence the title), he points out how prosperity can be endangered by zealots of any stripe. His writing flows quite naturally and provides many vivid examples of the dark past contrasting with our bright present and potentially brighter future.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top