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Interesting delve into a largely hidden industry

4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-12-14

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, great insight into something that affects all of us, but which few of us know anything about.

What did you like best about this story?

It's like a look behind the Wizard's curtain, to look at the inner workings.

Any additional comments?

Aside from the occasional headline or TV news story disclosing how our waste ends up in a developing nation to be sorted by children, I don’t generally think about what happens to my rubbish, recyclables or otherwise. The only other time I think about it is when I’m reviewing the list of things I’m allowed to throw in my recycling bin, which is decidedly lacking.

So this book provided a fascinating insight into the global trade in junk. And by that I mean anything that can be recycled in some way, whether that be direct reuse, or stripped for materials.

The scrap trade is now global, and Minter explains why those headlines about our waste being shipped to China, or India, or other locations with cheap labour, is actually a good thing (without that cheap labour it would end up in landfill). It’s an eye-opening journey through everything from the technology used by US recyclers to how the Chinese government is dealing with the growing pollution caused by an essential industry.

Not that the book was without issues for me. It focuses on a few materials (mainly metal, notably copper), with some others getting less attention (plastics) and some none at all (paper, fabric, glass). It is also heavily biased on two countries, the US and China. Some others are mentioned, but most only in passing.

Then there’s the simple notion of reducing demand. If we want to help the planet, and put an end to some of the polluting caused by the recycling industry, we need to stop buying so much. I get that, I do. Equally, Minter doesn’t address the fact that we can’t. Things don’t last forever, modern devices aren’t designed to for a start, and should I deny myself a faster, better, sometimes more energy efficient device because I want to stop the waste?

What about the world economy? It’s built on consumer power. We saw what happened when money got tight and people stopped buying so much: the world economy collapsed. The factories in China stopped producing and the scrap trade itself took a nose dive.

Then there’s the issue of re-use. Just because I’ve finished with a device doesn’t mean someone else can’t get a lot more out of it. That’s true, to a point. The book even describes Chinese dealers turning up their noses at phones only five year’s old. Yes we can send devices to developing nations so they can have access to things they may not otherwise have if they had to buy new, but eventually they’ll end up on the scrapheap, it’ll just be in a different nation. Out of sight and out of mind.

It’s a complex issue and there are some points that are a simplification too far. To be fair, he does also discuss the need for manufacturers to be held accountable, and to make devices that can be repaired, upgraded and, finally, disassembled easily.

And that’s before we get to some of the weird parts, such as when we spend a chapter in the passenger seat of a guy visiting scrapyards in the US, which doesn’t seem to add much, simply retreading many of the same points raised elsewhere.

Having said that, it will definitely open your eyes and make you look at the world a bit differently. It’s a thorough examination of modern consumer culture and will make you question things.

Stephen McLaughlin does an excellent job narrating this, so well you could believe he was the author.

The core message of this book is simple: reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s better do things in that order rather than toss something into your recycling bin and assume you’ve done your part. Sustainability is an issue that has been becoming more prevalent, but disposing of things, as this book shows, isn’t always so bad. We just need to try and do it responsibly.

1 person found this helpful

Not really what the title says

3 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-12-14

What did you like best about Why Nations Fail? What did you like least?

It's an interesting look back at the history of how many of the world's richest nations came to be that way, but that's not really what the title says it's about. It doesn't highlight why nations fail, only how the successful ones got where they are.

Would you recommend Why Nations Fail to your friends? Why or why not?

No, too long, too boring, to badly read.

Would you be willing to try another one of Dan Woren’s performances?

Not based on this.

Any additional comments?

There are books that you can’t put down and there are books you can’t wait to end. This was the latter for me.

The experience started badly in fairness. The opening chapters are a deluge of information and facts that come at you in an endless tirade with barely a pause for breath (literally in the audio version). Dan Woren reads the words legibly enough (if with some odd pronunciations to British ears), but so quickly and with so little emphasis on important points as to make it overwhelming.

After being bamboozled at the start, I found myself often having to skip back and re-listen to sections because I’d tuned out. I’m not sure if that was down to the laconic voice or the unengaging content.

Don’t let the title fool you either, this isn’t about why nations fail. It’s a history lesson in why some countries are rich and others poor in the modern world. It charts everything from the Glorious Revolution in England, to the exploitation of South America by the Spanish, to the rise of China.

Their argument is simple enough: inclusive institutions. By that, they mean political and social institutions where the people have a say, be that laws to insure the state can’t simple take what you have built, or democratically elected officials.

That’s not a reason why nations fail, its a reason why they don’t have long term stability, which generally seems to come along with prosperity, education and free discussion, looking at the examples stated.

I’m reading a similar book, Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, which delves into far more detail about the reasons nations fail to get out of poverty, and provides much greater insight.

Why Nations Fail is actually a history book, a look back at how various countries navigated their way into the top tier, or at least put themselves on the path towards it.

The book doesn’t attempt to provide answers, other than ‘because they don’t have inclusive institutions.’ It’s an interesting look back at the reasons certain things happened in particular countries, although each of those can only go so deep. It really only serves to highlight how little any of them shared.

If economic history interests you, then worth a look, but if you want to understand why nations fail, look elsewhere.