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Summary

This audiobook narrated by acclaimed economist Diane Coyle explains how GDP came to rule our lives - and why it needs to change

Why did the size of the US economy increase by three percent on one day in mid-2013 - or Ghana's balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010? Why did the UK financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008 - just as the world’s financial system went into meltdown? And why was Greece’s chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country’s economy? The answers to all these questions lie in the way we define and measure national economies around the world: Gross Domestic Product. This entertaining and informative book tells the story of GDP, making sense of a statistic that appears constantly in the news, business, and politics, and that seems to rule our lives - but that hardly anyone actually understands.

Diane Coyle traces the history of this artificial, abstract, complex, but exceedingly important statistic from its 18th and 19th century precursors through its invention in the 1940s and its postwar golden age, and then through the Great Crash up to today. The listener learns why this standard measure of the size of a country’s economy was invented, how it has changed over the decades, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. 

The book explains why even small changes in GDP can decide elections, influence major political decisions, and determine whether countries can keep borrowing or be thrown into recession. The book ends by making the case that GDP was a good measure for the 20th century but is increasingly inappropriate for a 21st century economy driven by innovation, services, and intangible goods.

©2014 Diane Coyle (P)2020 Princeton University Press

Critic reviews

One of The Wall Street Journal’s Best Books of 2014

Winner of the 2015 Bronze Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book Awards

One of Minnpost.com’s "Three (Plus) Books for The Econ Buff on Your List" 2014 

One of "The Books Quartz Read" in 2014

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

One of FA-mag.com’s Books of the Year 2014

"As a potted history of approaches to quantifying national output from the 18th century onward, GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History deserves high marks. It is particularly edifying to learn about the military motivation behind the initial attempts." (Martin S. Fridson, Financial Analysts Journal)

"[A] little charmer of a book...GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History is just what the title promises.... Cowperthwaite himself would nod in agreement over Ms. Coyle's informed discussion of what the GDP misses and how it misfires.... Ms. Coyle - a graceful and witty writer, by the way - recounts familiar problems and adds some new ones.... [E]xcellent." (James Grant, Wall Street Journal)

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