Is it culture, genetics, history, geography, or something else? Despite living in an interconnected world, we still see huge differences in standards of living and basic freedoms among countries and societies. How do we explain that? In this course we will be reading the book Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. We will try to figure out if their theory for the reason nations fail can help us understand this baffling, frustrating and persisting problem. You will be encouraged to challenge the authors’ assumptions and conclusions but along the way you will learn about the intriguing history of the world, large parts of which you have probably not been aware. The book goes on an amazing journey through 400 years of history around the world from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa. It is packed with unexpected historical examples that shed a new light on what we have learned in school and over the years since then. Get ready for a bumpy road through history that has led to where we are today. If you had a chance to read Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens and liked it, you will most likely love this book too. The book is not about blaming or absolving one side or the other but about understanding what happened so it can be changed for the better.

The course will be discussion with perhaps some short videos during class. Weekly reading will be about 60 pages each week, and students can, of course, start reading before the class begins.