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A Brief but Affectionate History
Diane Coyle

Book Description | Table of Contents
Introduction [in PDF format]


"In a charming and accessible new book, Diane Coyle untangles the history, assumptions, challenges and shortcomings of this popular rhetorical device, which has become so central to policy debates around the world. . . . Coyle's book is a good primer for the average citizen as well as the seasoned economist."--Adam Gurri, Ümlaut

"[I]t is interesting and important, particularly when it comes to the emphasis now given to GDP, and the inadequacies of this now time-honoured measurement of how our economies are doing. . . . With clarity and precision, she explains its strengths and weaknesses."--Peter Day, BBC News Business

"Diane Coyle has bravely attempted in a recent book to make the subject once more accessible, and even interesting."--John Kay, Financial Times

"[T]his is as engaging a book about GDP as you could ever hope to read. It falls into that genre of books that are 'biographies of things'--be they histories of longitude, the number zero or the potato--and is both enlightening and entertaining."--Andrew Sawers, FS Focus

"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

"The strongest part of the book charts the development of national accounting from the 17th century through to the creation of GDP itself and its literal and metaphorical rises and falls in the 20th and 21st centuries. . . . This is lively and surprisingly readable stuff."--Eilís Lawlor, LSE Review of Books

"Coyle has written an engaging, introductory to mid-level book on the GDP that makes sense of a statistic that hardly anyone actually understands. . . . It does not require any training in economics, but it covers many topics that even professional economists would find beneficial, including an argument that GDP is an increasingly inappropriate measure for the 21st century."--Choice

"[A] little charmer of a book."--Wall Street Journal (A Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014)

"GDP is a thought-provoking account of how the gross domestic product statistic came to be so important. . . . The book is a useful and timely contribution."--Louise Rawlings, Economic Record

"Coyle is surely right when she says that GDP is not outmoded, despite all the problems. The people who use GDP need to understand what it is and what it isn't, and to know what are its strengths and weaknesses. They should read this invaluable and accessible guide."--Bill Allen, Business Economists

"Coyle's account of the emergence and hegemony of GDP is a timely one, capturing in lucid historical detail the major conceptual weaknesses in the construction and use of GDP and the menu of alternative measures one might turn to."--Atiyab Sultan, Cambridge Humanities Review

"Coyle takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the development workhorse of economic modeling and analysis. . . . The book developed out of a talk by the author in 2011 and it retains the liveliness of a performance."--Central Banking Journal

"Coyle's greatest achievement is to succinctly describe the history of the concept as it emerged in the 1940s as a result of wartime politics obsessed with measuring productive capacity in an economy."--Atiyab Sultan, Cambridge Humanities Review

"Diane Coyle's eloquently written and accessible book provides a rich account of the history of GDP."--Johannes Hirata, International Review of Economics

"A lively account."--Gillian Tett, Financial Times

"A useful introduction to the meaning and limitations of GDP."--Pierre Lemieux, Regulation


"Diane Coyle renders GDP accessible and introduces a much-needed historical perspective to the discourse of what we measure and why. A must-read for those interested in the far-reaching impact of GDP on the global economy, just as we seek ways to go beyond it."--Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

"Countries are judged by their success in producing GDP. But what is it and where do those numbers reported on television come from? Diane Coyle makes GDP come to life--we see its strengths and its fallibilities, and we learn to understand and respect both."--Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, 2003-2013

"This is an engaging and witty but also profoundly important book. Diane Coyle clearly and elegantly explains the fundamental difficulties of GDP--and how this headline figure is liable to radical change by apparently simple changes in method. She also provides a nice treatment of alternative proposals such as happiness surveys."--Harold James, author of Making the European Monetary Union

"Well written, interesting, and useful, this book will appeal to many readers. I learned a lot from it."--Robert Hahn, University of Oxford

"GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History is a fascinating 140-page book that I cannot recommend highly enough. This is simply the best book on GDP that I've ever seen."--John Mauldin

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File created: 9/19/2017

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