The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

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Virtually all human societies were once organized tribally, yet over time most developed new political institutions which included a central state that could keep the peace and uniform laws that applied to all citizens. Some went on to create governments that were accountable to their constituents. We take these institutions for granted, but they are absent or are unable to perform in many of today's developing countries—with often disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.

Francis Fukuyama, author of the bestselling The End of History and the Last Man and one of our most important political thinkers, provides a sweeping account of how today's basic political institutions developed. The first of a major two-volume work, The Origins of Political Order begins with politics among our primate ancestors and follows the story through the emergence of tribal societies, the growth of the first modern state in China, the beginning of the rule of law in India and the Middle East, and the development of political accountability in Europe up until the eve of the French Revolution.

Drawing on a vast body of knowledge—history, evolutionary biology, archaeology, and economics—Fukuyama has produced a brilliant, provocative work that offers fresh insights on the origins of democratic societies and raises essential questions about the nature of politics and its discontents.

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About the author

Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He has previously taught at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. He was a researcher at the RAND Corporation and served as the deputy director in the State Department's policy planning staff. He is the author of The End of History and the Last Man, Trust, and America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. He lives with his wife in California.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Apr 12, 2011
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History / World
Political Science / History & Theory
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Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities.

The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:

- China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?

- Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?

- What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?

Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world. 
The global financial crisis of 2008–9 has changed the way people around the world think about development. The market-friendly, lightly regulated model of capitalism promoted by the United States is now at risk, and development thinking worldwide is at something of an impasse. Editors Nancy Birdsall and Francis Fukuyama bring together leading scholars to explore the implications of the global financial crisis on existing and future development strategies.

In addressing this issue, the contributors contemplate three central questions: What effect has the crisis had on current ideas in development thinking? How has it affected and how will it affect economic policy and political realities in Latin America and Asia, including China and India? Will the financial collapse reinforce shifts in geopolitical power and influence, and in what form? Essays answering these questions identify themes that are essential as economic and political leaders address future challenges of development.

To help move beyond this time of global economic turmoil, the contributors—the foremost minds in the field of international development—offer innovative ideas about stabilizing the international economy and promoting global development strategies.

Contributors: Nancy Birdsall, Center for Global Development; Michael Clemens, Center for Global Development; Kemal Derviş, Brookings Institution; Larry Diamond, Stanford University; Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University; Peter S. Heller, Johns Hopkins University; Yasheng Huang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank; José Antonio Ocampo, Columbia University; Mitchell A. Orenstein, Johns Hopkins University; Minxin Pei, Claremont McKenna College; Lant Pritchett, Harvard University; Liliana Rojas-Suarez, Center for Global Development; Arvid Subramanian, Johns Hopkins University

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