The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg

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The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Adapt to survive is the message from this book about how unsustainable the current world economic model is. It's a bit too cheery, but you'll get the message.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Clairview
ISBN: 978-1905570331

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With the newspapers full of economic doom and gloom the last thing you might want is to pick up a book that reiterates it and then some. But while this book may seem at first glance to be a bit of a downer, it also provides an insight into how things might just work out ok in the end. Yes, they’ll be some big changes – there have to be because the direction we’ve been heading in is just not sustainable – but if we’re willing to adapt, we will survive was the main message I picked up as I flicked through the pages.

With chapters including The New Normal (perhaps surprisingly, this is the first, not final section), The Great Balloon Race and Shrinking Pie it all sounds rather jolly, but of course the topic is anything but. The author argues that it’s not just the end of growth, but may also be the start of a reversing trend – an economic contraction if you will – as a result of the depletion of natural resources, the state of the environment and a little thing called masses of debt. Some of this of course is not new – we were learning about exhausting fossil fuels when I was at primary school in the 80s – but it’s the culmination of several factors at once that’s pushing us into a brick wall of disaster unless we can put the brakes on. And a change of focus from the pursuit of happiness – GNH, or Gross National Happiness, that is – in lieu of ever increasing GDP may be just the ticket.

The book is logical, which I liked. It starts in the past and works to the future, looking at how we ended up where we are, how some of it seemed a good idea at the time, and how our lives now have such a strong trajectory it’s going to be hard to do the 180 degree about turn that may be needed.

However, it’s also slightly odd because it seems to be pitched more at the masses than the specialists, and yet has a distinct text book feel to it – case studies, graphs and all. The presentation style and the language both reminded me of my A Level Business texts, with this one perhaps just a bit more fluid to encourage continuous reading rather than dip in and out reference. It didn’t really work, though, and I found it a bit too longwinded to read for very long at once, even when stuck on a train with nothing else to devour. The chapters are very long and although they have subheadings, these aren’t numbered in a helpful way.

Some parts of the religious community have been predicting (incorrectly, as it turns out) the end of time for many years now, and while you might think this book is similar there’s one key difference: an evidence base. An insane amount of references litter the pages – up to 114 per chapter – and the way these are included at the back is a little inaccessible, as each chapter starts from 1 again, but it’s hard to tell which chapter’s references you are in. And while the vast majority of pages are proper content, there are more than 30 at the end for these notes and an index, worth bearing in mind if you’re coming to the finish and expecting to have

There are some sweeping statements I’m not entirely convinced by. The blurb on the back, for example, claims Economists insist that recovery is at hand... but I’m not convinced that all do claim that, or that anyone truly believes things will be rosy again any time soon. At the same time, I also found the tone a bit too positive in places. I normally like upbeat books, and I’m sure the reasoning behind this one is that other readers feel the same, but it did seem a little over cheery given the at times depressing picture being painted. A final complaint relates more to the genre than this specific title: it is very time dependent and though it may be relevant today, chances are it will be out of date very quickly, so for that reason I don’t think it’s a must-BUY, and a borrow might instead suffice.

All said and done, though, this is a decent read that’s not as dumbed down as it might have been but is equally an accessible read for those with only a layman’s understanding of the field. You might not want to hang off every word, but as a whole this is a book that will definitely make you think, and ask the right questions if you do feel the need to find out more. It’s time to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and once you’ve read this you may have some idea where to start.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

Like the sound of this? Need more books for your bedside table? Why not have a look at The Fall of the House of Credit by Alistair Milne

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