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About the book
  • Published: 9 July 2020
  • ISBN: 9781784163259
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $19.99

Extreme Economies

Survival, Failure, Future – Lessons from the World’s Limits




Inspiring and thought-provoking, Extreme Economies is filled with lively stories about human experience at society's limits, and what it can teach us about our future.

Winner of the Enlightened Economist Prize 2019
Winner of Debut Writer of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards 2020
Longlisted for the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2019
'Extreme Economies is a revelation - and a must-read.' Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England

To understand how humans react and adapt to economic change we need to study people who live in harsh environments. From death-row prisoners trading in institutions where money is banned to flourishing entrepreneurs in the world's largest refugee camp, from the unrealised potential of cities like Kinshasa to the hyper-modern economy of Estonia, every life in this book has been hit by a seismic shock, violently broken or changed in some way.

People living in these odd and marginal places are ignored by number crunching economists and political pollsters alike. Science suggests this is a mistake. This book tells the personal stories of humans living in extreme situations, and of the financial infrastructure they create. Here, economies are not concerned with the familiar stock market crashes, housing crises, or banking scandals of the financial pages.

In his quest for a purer view of how economies succeed and fail, Richard Davies takes the reader off the beaten path to places where part of the economy has been repressed, removed, destroyed or turbocharged. By travelling to each of them and discovering what life is really like, Extreme Economies tells small stories that shed light on today’s biggest economic questions.

  • Pub date: 9 July 2020
  • ISBN: 9781784163259
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $19.99

Praise for Extreme Economies

“We learn most about ourselves at times of extreme stress and challenge. Using nine compelling country case studies, Richard Davies brilliantly demonstrates that the same is true of our economic systems. In its approach and insights, Extreme Economies is a revelation - and a must-read.”

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England

“Richard Davies balances economics with art, exposing the trade-offs made by people living today and forcing us to question the outcomes of our decisions.”

Will Page, Chief Economist at Spotify

“Davies visits economies pushed to the limit and examines what their response teaches us about resilience in the face of climate change, demographic shifts and state failure.”

Financial Times

“Exciting to see economics strike out into the real world showing how trauma and chaos can yield raw truths about markets, monopolies and the state.”

Simon Jenkins

“An exploration of the lessons to be drawn from disaster-stricken economies and imperilled (but innovative) people, which ranges from the jungles of Panama to post-tsunami Indonesia to the prison system of Louisiana and Syrian refugee camps.”

The Economist - Books of the Year 2019

“Breathtaking. An entertaining, fascinating, important reminder of the power of economics to shape all of our lives.”

Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News

“Financial Times Best Books of 2019: Extreme Economies is a reflection on human resilience. The author takes you from a prison to a refugee camp to Kinshasa and Santiago to explain how economies work in extreme circumstances and why markets succeed or fail. Weaving economic theory and individual life stories, this is an important and enjoyable read.”

Roula Khalaf, FT deputy editor

“Richard Davies obviously made the kind of road trip many of us only dream of to write Extreme Economies. I tore through it. An economist who can write so well while at the same time explaining the economic principles so clearly is always a joy.”

Diane Coyle

“Accessible and original. The author draws on sociology and anthropology and the simple power of observation and conversation to bring economics alive.”

Vince Cable, New Statesman Books of the Year

“A must read for anyone feeling desperate about the state of world affairs today, Extreme Economies demonstrates with vivid clarity and humanity how those in the most challenging situations can prosper. Many economists are quite narrow in their thinking about life’s challenges, this book beautifully demonstrates why the world’s most interesting places force us to think more openly.”

Lord Jim O'Neill, Chair, Chatham House

“As a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of markets versus planned economies, Extreme Economies is one of the most subtle and surprising I have read.”

Tim Harford, Financial Times

“A highly original approach to understanding what really makes economies tick. Both insightful and accessible to non-economists.”

Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England

“Extreme Economies makes sense of the forces shaping the future. Taken together, the books nine deep dives are a much needed reminder that an economy is not what happens when equations interact with data. An economy is what happens when people -- real people, people with names -- interact with people. Anyone who wants to learn economics, is learning economics, or pretends to know some economics should read this book.”

Paul Romer, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

“We can't forecast the coming decades, but it is enlightening to look at extreme economies for clues what we may be in store for. Davies book is fascinating.”

Professor Robert J. Shiller, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences

“A fascinating book on economics in extremes. What happens when things go really wrong or are really different.”

Martin Wolf, Financial Times

“Engagingly written and genuinely interesting… fascinating reportage. Davies dives into corners of the world you don’t hear much about and conveys, briefly and clearly, how they work. Simultaneously entertaining, informative and balanced.”

Matthew Yglesias, New York Times

“A gimlet-eyed look at developments in the global economy, in which interesting and sometimes ominous things are happening. Highly recommended, sobering reading for anyone interested in the economic future, for good and bad.”

Kirkus Review

“Extreme Economies makes sense of the forces shaping the future by describing what people do when pushed to their limits. This strategy of going to extremes pays off spectacularly. Taken together, the book's nine deep dives are a much needed reminder that an economy is not what happens when equations interact with data. An economy is what is what happens when people -- real people, people with names -- interact. Anyone who wants to learn economics, is learning economics, or pretends to know some economics should read this book.”

Paul Romer, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

“In each location, Davies keeps his perspective on broad, and often disturbing, historical trends while celebrating the resourcefulness of the individuals and communities he profiles. . . This ambitious and thought-provoking guide helps to make sense of the economic future.”

Publishers Weekly

“[A] worthwhile lesson, today more than ever. Much of the evidence from Davies’s book, a bottom-up look at what happens when disaster strikes, is encouraging: before long, individuals rebuild themselves and their livelihoods. Fashionable as it is to do it down, capitalism is remarkably resilient.”

Ed Coway, The Times