Read: August 2021

Inspiration: Heard of the book through a podcast; wanted to understand what we can be optimistic about during a challenging time


Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.

“The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves”, published in 2010 by author, scientist, and journalist Matt Ridley, explores the history of human progress and argues that optimism is justified based on the progress that has been made over time. Ridley asserts that human beings have made tremendous progress in various fields such as health, technology, and living standards, and that this progress is due to our ability to exchange ideas and innovate. He also discusses the role that free trade and specialization have played in driving progress and prosperity. Throughout the book, Ridley offers a positive and optimistic view of the future, arguing that human ingenuity and cooperation will continue to drive progress and improve the human condition.

Unedited Notes

Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.

Humans do well not via self-sufficiency but via exchange and specialization (increase free time to pursue other things), never before this generation has avg person been able to afford to have someone else prepare their meals, prosperity all about interdependence and no longer self-sufficiency, most primates gut is 4 times brain size vs humans brain weighs more than gut (due in large part to fresh meat and cooking easy to digest vs raw vegetation), Tasmanian regress (so isolated that 3,000 years ago found to have lost tech that had 5,000 years prior b/c not enough experts and exchange to pass on), innovation and progress requires population density, interactions and experts to spur productive mistakes and iteration (will regress and disappear in isolation), humans uniquely able to barter with non-family strangers (all other primates would be violent), rules critical to prosperity, perhaps automation of hshld chores free up time for women rights mvmt (tech and capitalism enable expansion of freedom via free time), first sign of private property was halaf people 8,000 years ago b/w syria and turkey borders use stamp seals for ownership, 1/3 of farmland or more in past dedicated to food for horses until combustion engine free up land for human consumption, norman bourloug create wheat genetic hybrid that triple yield and save india from famine—nobel in 1970, rice wheat and maize provide 2/3 of worlds food directly or indirectly, organic farming is much lower yield than that which uses GMOs and safe herbicides so more deforestation needed (actually worse for the environment to be organic in that way), GM crops reduce use of pesticides, GM crops can require less fertilizer, phoenicians connecy mediterranean via sea trade, no example for history where isolation/protectionism lead to greater prosperity, used to face trade off where population growth lead to depressed wages and scarce land (now cities build up so land not scarce), theory of productivity gains in London late 1700s was rich double kids of poor but resources lacking mean new poor are descendants of rich and bring literacy etc with them, birth rates falling everywhere (used to say 15 bill by 2050 not 9.2 by 2075 never hit 10 bn), England ban indian cotton with calico act 1722 but not sustainable to keep out, land requirements of coal multiples less than renewables (keep lifestyle via biofuels require 30% more land than now, building windfarms and biofuel planations kill acres (vs coal underground), biofuel not better than fossil bc more deforestation (tractor nitrous oxide worse than carbon, more water needed), nothing endures but change, apocaholics as old as time predicting at turning point and past is golden but never true (world changes, pessimists assume future is continuation of past when not true), see dilemma with africa and climate change—africa need to use fossil fuels to grow but hurt climate (false dilemma, catastrophe not inevitable)

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Welcome to JeffReads, where I share summaries of the best books I’ve read on business, politics, science, technology and more.




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