In the 1970s Harvard undergraduates used to be offered what was called the Sherwin-Williams course. In lieu of a single coherent economic history, a galaxy of faculty stars would "paint the globe." One after another they would describe to their audience, seated in the university's vast Memorial Hall, different facets of world economic history-first the experience of Europe, then America, then Asia, and finally, time permitting, other parts of the world. What the course offered in variety, it lacked in coherence. But no one felt capable, or at least inclined, to describe a whole that was more than the sum of these parts.
Few scholars, in other words, have the courage to pose the questions addressed by David Landes in his new book. Consciously echoing the title of Adam Smith's classic, the author sets out to explain nothing less than the wealth of nations-why some are rich while others are