As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West

Princeton Univ. Dec. 2023. 424p. ISBN 9780691215730. $35. ECON
In this outstanding book, Alfani (economic history, Bocconi Univ., Milan; Calamities and the Economy in Renaissance Italy) uses empirical research methods to explore how the Western world’s wealth accumulated from roughly 1860 to the present and the oversized role some wealthy people play in society. Framing history, he points out that some medieval thinkers believed that superrich people would automatically act as “gods among men” and use their wealth to help their communities. Others felt that an excessive amount of wealth was evil, sinful, and contrary to the good of most people. In the 20th century, the wealthy—notably millionaires Leland Stanford and Herbert Hoover—provided much-needed help during the Great Depression and the stock market crash by financing many social benefit programs. Nonetheless, Alfani argues, the wealthy maintain a strong grip on their money by avoiding taxes and finding ways to make economic gains in times that devastate others, such as a recession or a pandemic.
VERDICT A terrific history about wealth and the Western world’s economic practices; a strong addition to economic and social sciences collections.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing