In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 grew from forty-five to seventy-two years. Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis,The Rise and Fall of American Growth provides an in-depth account of this momentous era. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end?
Gordon challenges the view that economic growth can or will continue unabated, and he demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 can't be repeated. He contends that the nation's productivity growth, which has already slowed to a crawl, will be further held back by the vexing headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government. Gordon warns that the younger generation may be the first in American history that fails to exceed their parents' standard of living, and that rather than depend on the great advances of the past, we must find new solutions to overcome the challenges facing us.
Winner of the 2017 Excellence in Financial Journalism Book Award, New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants Winner of the 2017 PROSE Award in U.S. History, Association of American Publishers A New York Times Bestseller One of Bloomberg View's "Five Books to Change Conservatives' Minds," chosen by Cass Sunstein #36 on Bloomberg's "50 Most Influential" List One of Bloomberg's Best Books of 2016 One of Financial Times (FT.com) Best Economics Books of 2016 One of The Economist's Economics and Business Books of the Year 2016 One of the Strategy+Business Best Business Books 2016 in Economy One of Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2016 in History One of Bloomberg View's Great History Books of 2016 One of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2016 One of The Wall Street Journal's "The 20 Books That Defined Our Year" 2016 One of Foreign Affairs' Editors' Picks 2016 One of the Washington Post's Best Economics Books 2016 Shortlisted for the 2016 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award One of The NewYorker.com Page-Turner blog's "The Books We Loved in 2016" Longlisted for the 2016 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature, McGill University "The Rise and Fall of American Growth... is the Thomas Piketty-esque economic must read of the year."--Rana Foroohar, Time "This is a book well worth reading--a magisterial combination of deep technological history, vivid portraits of daily life over the past six generations and careful economic analysis... [The Rise and Fall of American Growth] will challenge your views about the future; [and] it will definitely transform how you see the past."--Paul Krugman, New York Times Book Review "[An] authoritative examination of innovation through the ages."--Neil Irwin, New York Times "Robert Gordon has written a magnificent book on the economic history of the United States over the last one and a half centuries... The book is without peer in providing a statistical analysis of the uneven pace of growth and technological change, in describing the technologies that led to the remarkable progress during the special century, and in concluding with a provocative hypothesis that the future is unlikely to bring anything approaching the economic gains of the earlier period... If you want to understand our history and the economic dilemmas faced by the nation today, you can spend many a fruitful hour reading Gordon's landmark study."--William D. Nordhaus, New York Review of Books "Mr. Gordon uses exhaustive historic data to buttress his thesis."--Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal "[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] is full of wonder for the miraculous things that America has accomplished."--Edward Glaeser, Wall Street Journal "A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy."--Kirkus "Normally, these kinds of big-think books end with a whimper, as the author totally fails to identify solutions to the problem he is writing about. But Gordon's conclusion offers some admirably definitive policy advice."--Matthew Yglesias, Vox "Magnificent... Gordon presents his case... with great style and panache, supporting his argument with vivid examples as well as econometric data... Even if history changes direction... this book will survive as a superb reconstruction of material life in America in the heyday of industrial capitalism."--Economist "Every presidential candidate should be asked what policies he or she would offer to increase the pace of U.S. productivity growth and to narrow the widening gap between winners and losers in the economy. Bob Gordon's list is a good place to start."--David Wessel, WSJ.com's Think Tank blog "[W]hat may be the year's most important book on economics has already been published... What Gordon has provided is not a rejection of technology but a sobering reminder of its limits."--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post "Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth is an extraordinary work of economic scholarship... Moreover, this is one of the rare economics books that is on the one hand deeply analytical ... And on the other a pleasure to read... [A] landmark work."--Lawrence Summers, Prospect "Ambitious... The hefty tome, minutely detailed yet dauntingly broad in scope, offers a lively portrayal of the evolution of American living standards since the Civil War."--Eduardo Porter, New York Times "Two years ago a huge book on economics took the world by storm. Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century ... became a surprise bestseller... Robert Gordon's tome on American economic growth stretches to 768 pages and its central message is arguably more important."--David Smith, Sunday Times "A landmark new book."--Gavin Kelly, The Guardian "Looking ahead, judging presidents by policies rather than outcomes may be all the more important. In a new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the economist Robert Gordon argues that we are in the midst of an era of meager technological change. Yes, we now have smartphones and Twitter, but previous generations introduced electric lighting, indoor plumbing and the internal combustion engine. In Mr. Gordon's view, technological change is just not what it used to be, and we had better get used to slower growth in productivity and incomes."--N. Gregory Mankiw, New York Times "The Rise and Fall of American Growth is likely to be the most interesting and important economics book of the year. It provides a splendid analytic take on the potency of past economic growth, which transformed the world from the end of the nineteenth century onward... Gordon's book serves as a powerful reminder that the U.S. economy really has gone through a protracted slowdown and that this decline has been caused by the stagnation in technological progress."--Tyler Cowen, Foreign Affairs "[A]n important new book."--Martin Ford, Huffington Post "[A] lightning bolt of a new book."--Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect "So powerful and intriguing are the facts and arguments marshaled by Gordon that even informed critics who think he is wrong recommend that readers plow through his The Rise and Fall of American Growth, with its 60 graphics and 64 tables spread over more than 700 pages. You don't need to be an economist to appreciate or understand the book. His thesis is straightforward."--David Cay Johnston, Al Jazeera America.com "What is novel about Gordon's approach to this problem is that he doesn't try to find political causes for our economic woes... [E]xhaustive and sweeping in scope, and novel in its thinking about growth."--Chris Matthews, Fortune.com "[A] fascinating new book."--Jeffrey Sachs, Boston Globe "One of the most important books of recent years... Powerful and impressive."--Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg View "This is a tremendous, sobering piece of research, which does a lot to explain the febrile, nervous state of modern Western democracies."--Marcus Tanner, The Independent "A new book by economist Robert Gordon--The Rise and Fall of American Growth--is causing quite a stir."--City A.M. "If he's right, and one links this with growing income inequality, our would-be leaders will have difficulty in making the case for achieving the American dream through steady incremental progress achieved through collaboration and political compromise."--Michael Hoffmann, Desert Sun "Robert Gordon's new book on productivity in the U.S. economy, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, is masterful... Gordon skillfully lays out myriad information about the history and trends of productivity. One can learn a great deal."--Edward Lotterman, St. Paul Pioneer Press "[I]mpressive."--Peter Martin, Sydney Morning Herald "In his unsettling new book, Gordon, who teaches at Northwestern, weighs in on the role of technology in the U.S. over the past century-and-a-half. He does so forcefully, so forcefully, in fact, as to wipe the smiles off the faces of most techno-optimists, myself included."--Peter A. Coclanis, Charlotte Observer "[A] thoughtful new book."--David D. Haynes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] is this year's equivalent to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century: an essential read for all economists, who are unanimously floored by its boldness and scope even if they don't agree with its conclusions."--Adam Davidson, New York Times Magazine "Gordon makes a compelling case for why the era of fast growth in America ended around 1970 and will not return in the foreseeable future, if ever."--Dick Meyer, DecodeDC "Gordon argues that we are not going to get another surge soon and that there are several headwinds that are going to work against faster growth, including income inequality, education as a differentiator and not an equalizer, the debt overhang, and demography."--John Mason, TheStreet.com "[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] challenges every political claim, and every pundit's remedy, regarding how to get the lackluster American economy to boom again in the decades ahead, as it once did a half-century or more ago... [The book] represents the culmination of Gordon's many years of investigation into this key economic question of our age, namely: 'Why is it that the American economy has never been able to return to the happy boom years of our grandparents' time?' Why is it that, decade after decade, administration after administration, annualized productivity growth has only been about one-half to one-third that of the age of Truman and Eisenhower?"--Paul Kennedy, Tribune Content Agency "[M]asterful... Gordon skillfully lays out information about the history and trends of productivity. One can learn a great deal... The Rise and Fall of American Growth is a rare example of a work with solid economics that can be understood, and enjoyed, by nearly any lay person."--Ed Lotterman, Idaho Statesman "As an economic historian, Gordon is beyond reproach."--Edward Luce, Financial Times "Provocative."--Associated Press "The Rise and Fall of American Growth, is a deep dive into the past with an eye to the future... [The book] is part of a fascinating debate about future prospects for the American economy."--Knowledge@Wharton "[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] has set the wonky world of economics aflame."--Ryan Craig, TechCrunch "Magisterial."--John Kay, Financial Times "[A] contentious new book."--Margaret Wente, The Globe & Mail "[A] fabulous new book... [I]mpressive."--Dr. Mike Walden, Morganton News Herald "Northwestern Bob Gordon's new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, offers a deeper explanation for the underlying mechanics behind slowed economic growth."--Jon Hartley, Forbes.com "So much of what the presidential candidates and the American people want to accomplish over the next four years and beyond depends on the U.S. economy growing faster, and more inclusively, than it has in recent years. This year's hot economics book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by one of America's most distinguished macroeconomists, Robert Gordon, casts a pall on whether this is possible, arguing that the U.S. had a golden century of increasing innovation from roughly 1870 to 1970, but this was unique."--Robert Litan, Fortune.com "Gordon's book offers the definitive account of how the many technological innovations between 1870 and 1940 dramatically improved life in the United States."--Richard A. Epstein, Hoover Institution's Defining Ideas blog "[M]agiserial... The Northwestern University professor lays out the case that the productivity miracle underlying the American way of life was largely a one-time deal."--Matt Phillips, Quartz "Robert Gordon's new book The Rise and Fall of American Growth has taken the economics world by storm this winter."--Myles Udland, Business Insider "[M]assive."--Ben Casselman, FiveThirty Eight "[G]roundbreaking."--Zeeshan Aleem, Mic "With a painstaking--and fascinating--historical analysis of American productivity, [Gordon] argues that the innovations of today pale in comparison to earlier in our history and that we might actually be entering a period of prolonged stagnation. He may very well be right."--Greg Satell, Forbes.com "[P]rovocative."--Barrie McKenna, The Globe & Mail "[I]nfluential."--Martin Neil Baily, Fortune.com "[A] stimulating book."--George Will, Washington Post "Compulsive reading."--Andrew Hilton, Financial World "Gordon is not an alarmist, far from it. His is a sober voice of concern, of caution, which needs to be heard by those in the helm in America. And a fascinating lesson for ambitious and growing countries like India."--Dr R Balashankar, Sunday Guardian "[A] fascinating convergence of green and mainstream thought."--Tom Horton, Chesapeake Bay Journal "[T]his panoramic book makes good reading."--Shane Greenstein, Harvard Magazine "The book's great contribution is the tapestry it weaves of all the innovations that changed most Americans' lives beyond recognition in the century from 1870 to 1970."--Martin Sandbu, Financial Times "The Rise and Fall of American Growth is unquestionably an important book that raises fundamental questions about the United States' economy and society."--New Criterion "[A] masterpiece."--Martin Wolf, Financial Times "[An] impressive book... Gordon's book provides sufficient ammunition to show the colossal problems facing capitalism."--Socialism Today "Rich with detailed information, meticulous observations, and even anecdotes and stories ... a fascinating read."--Ricardo F. Levi, Corriere della Sera "The Rise and Fall of American Growth is essential reading for anyone interested in economics."--Choice "In an important new book, economist Robert Gordon makes the case for pessimism. He believes that technologies like smartphones, robots, and artificial intelligence aren't going to have the kind of big impact on the economy that earlier inventions--like the internal combustion engine and electricity--did."--Timothy B. Lee, Vox "Robert Gordon has written an engaging economic-based history of America... Gordon is to be commended for helping to stimulate a national debate on the current low level of economic productivity."--Allan Hauer, Innovation: The Journal of Technology & Commercialization "If you want to see how far we have come and how tough life was a century and a half ago, read Gordon's book."--David R. Henderson, Regulation "A fantastic read."--Bill Gates, GatesNotes "The book is well written, and one can only be in awe of Gordon's mastery of the factual history of the American standard of living."--Robert A. Margo, EH.net "Monumental."--John Cassidy, NewYorker.com "Zeitgeist-defining."--Myles Udland, Business Insider "[A] magisterial treatise."--Nick Gillespie, Reason.com "[A]n essential read for anyone interested not only in US economic history but also American economic prospects ... a tremendous achievement."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist "A comprehensive history of American economic growth."--Eric Rauchway, American Prospect "Professor Robert J. Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth is a magisterial volume that will benefit any serious student of economics, demographics or history."--Wendell Cox, New Geography "A wonderful new book."--Jeff Sachs, Boston Globe "The most important economics book of 2016."--Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune "This spectacular history traces the rise and the plateau of the American economy since industrialization."--Jay Weiser, Weekly Standard "[A] landmark book... An impressive history of how the American people progressed in their standards of living and productivity in the 'golden century' of 1870-1970."--Stephen M. Millett, Strategy & Leadership "Gordon's encyclopedic The Rise and Fall of American Growth, a new history of modern U.S. economic life, [is] perhaps the best yet written."--Jonathan Levy, Dissent "One of our greatest economic historians... Gordon's exhaustive research program ... has knocked me back on my intellectual heels."--J. Bradford DeLong, Strategy + Business "This is the most important book on economics in many years."--Martin Wolf, Financial Times "Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth set out a thesis of technological diminishing returns that does much to explain an age of economic pessimism."--Lorien Kite, Financial Times "In the course of Gordon's book, a vivid picture of everyday life as our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived it emerges... What lingers in my mind, alongside these ideas, is a new, weightier sense of the past, and of what the people who lived in it ate, touched, heard, saw, and did. Reading The Rise and Fall of American Growth, I thought a lot about my grandparents. Gordon's book has made their lives more real to me."--Joshua Rothman, NewYorker.com's Page-Turner blog "Magisterial... While the book has gotten attention because of its bold projection of slow growth in the future, this is actually just one small element of a magnificent and detailed presentation of how our economy has changed since 1870. Most people don't fully appreciate what life was like in the past and Gordon gives a blow-by-blow description of how people lived in America from 1870 on. In addition, he carefully explains how each new innovation was created and how its adoption changed people's lives."--Stephen Rose, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas "Gordon constructs a strong case using conventional economic principles and exacting data measurement."--Don Pittis, CBC News "Gordon's genius is to weave together economic history with the story of the technology, know-how, politic, demographics and medicine that made the astonishing progress of the US perhaps the most remarkable ever."--Sean O'Grady, The Independent "The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert Gordon, is that rarest thing: a work of densely researched macroeconomics that is compulsively readable."--Bill Morris, The Millions