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Summary

From one of the nation's preeminent experts on economic policy, a major reassessment of the foundations of modern economic thinking that explores the profound influence of an until-now unrecognized force - religion.

Critics of contemporary economics complain that belief in free markets - among economists as well as many ordinary citizens - is a form of religion. And, it turns out, that in a deeper, more historically grounded sense, there is something to that idea.

Contrary to the conventional historical view of economics as an entirely secular product of the Enlightenment, Benjamin M. Friedman demonstrates that religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset. Friedman makes clear how the foundational transition in thinking about what we now call economics, beginning in the 18th century, was decisively shaped by the hotly contended lines of religious thought within the English-speaking Protestant world.

Beliefs about God-given human character, about the after-life, and about the purpose of our existence were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived. Friedman explores how those debates go far in explaining the puzzling behavior of so many of our fellow citizens whose views about economic policies - and whose voting behavior - seems sharply at odds with what would be to their own economic benefit.

Illuminating the origins of the relationship between religious thinking and economic thinking, together with its ongoing consequences, Friedman provides invaluable insights into our current economic policy debates and demonstrates ways to shape more functional policies for all citizens.

©2021 Benjamin M. Friedman (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

“Once theological questions are rendered into secular language, their relevance, and thus the importance of Friedman’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, becomes clear.... This overview cannot even begin to pay homage to the prodigious research informing Friedman’s analysis. He covers not only the main thinkers in both economics and theology, but also the less-well-known ones who helped shape their thought. He can credibly discuss the philosophy of John Locke and the science of Isaac Newton. As one reads Friedman, words like 'magisterial', 'masterpiece' and 'magnificent' floated through my thoughts.... If someone had told me that a former chairman of the Harvard economics department would write a major work on Calvinism and its influence, you would have had to consider me a skeptic. Nonetheless Friedman has, and the result is an awakening all its own.” (Alan Wolfe, The New York Times Book Review)

“Friedman has made an important contribution to the literature on the intertwining of Western economic thought with religious beliefs. His detailed tracing of the philosophical and theological roots of free market economics is well researched, well written, and well worth reading." (Carol Elsen, Library Journal, starred review) 

“Of the many factors that went into the construction of the modern economic worldview undergirding capitalism, Friedman has successfully added religion back into the causal equation.” (Michael Shermer, The American Scholar

What listeners say about Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

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    3 out of 5 stars

Heavy going

It is heavy and deep - but provides a great deal of context to economic development over the last 300 years.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-02-21

All American's are Presbyterian naturalists

All American's are, at least, Presbyterian naturalists via their political economy. Friedman's work begins with origins in the Scottish Enlightenment of the ideas lying around which led to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. His and other philosophical works then & the two centuries since live on in the western world as modern political economy. The birth of economics and its fusion with religion are explained in a compellingly told history of both US Christianity and its two-party system.

Consider two other recent titles also written without intent to proselytize that explain Christianity's effect on shaping today. Joe Henrich's WEIRDest People in the World examines shared western psychology & the cultural evolution from cult of family to individualism stemming from religious prohibitions. Tom Holland's Dominion details the through-line from Enlightenment ideas to today's culturally shared Western values and societal structures.

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  • Kau'i Baumhofer
  • 09-07-21

Learned a lot from this book

The first half of the book was a bit dry, but I thought the second half (especially the last three chapters) had a lot of good information explaining the mechanism behind why socially conservative low-income voters consistently vote against their economic interests.

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  • Ekele Onuh Oscar
  • 27-04-21

interesting piece of work

this book is voluminous because it is trying to show the history of economic thought as it pertains to religious influence. from Smith to Malthus to Keynes and Hayek.

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  • Noah Webster
  • 29-04-21

Sorta Conventional Wisdom

The only danger of a book written by a Harvard academic is that it is generally a well articulated and reasoned version of conventional wisdom - at least East Coast liberal conventional wisdom.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 18-04-21

Great history . . .

Not just about economics. Great political and theological history woven together skillfully as well as the impact on economic attitudes and actions..

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  • Richard Redano
  • 20-03-21

A+ in History; D+ in Geography

While I purchased this book for its history of capitalism, I found its history of Protestantism to be comprehensive and fascinating. The book rates an A+ in history. Unfortunately, the book’s command of geography is less impressive. Near the end of Chapter 1, the author states, “Canada and Mexico are the only two countries that share borders with the US.” This statement ignores the maritime borders that the US shares with several countries, including The Bahamas, The U.K. (B.V.I), and Samoa. This apparent unawareness of U.S. territories merits a D+ in geography.