Book Review: The Great Escape by Angus Deaton

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Have you ever thought about how much better our lives are compared to our ancestors? In the book “The Great Escape” by Angus Deaton, you can learn about the technological and political developments that have made our prosperity possible. However, not everyone has benefited equally from these advancements.

The book takes a deep dive into historical and modern inequality, providing valuable insights on how to reduce the gap between the privileged and disadvantaged.

If you’re wondering whether the book is worth your time, this review will help you decide. So, let’s get started without any delay.

Key Insights

Lesson 1: Hunter-gatherer’s balanced diet can promote long, healthy lives.

Let’s take a journey back in time to the days of the earliest humans. These resilient hunter-gatherer groups may have had a low average age, but they lived long, healthy lives. Despite the constant search for food and shelter, their diet was incredibly nutritious and well-balanced.

How did they achieve this? By discussing what they found, they were able to diversify their meals with highly nutritious wild plants and animals. It’s safe to say that their diet was probably healthier than what we consume today, and they were able to thrive without the need for sanitation.

As time went on, humans began to settle down and develop agriculture. However, this led to a decline in living standards and a dramatic increase in disease-related mortality. Who would have thought that the very thing that should have improved their quality of life would end up dampening their happiness?

Living in a fixed location made them less dependent on weather fluctuations and constant movement, but it also led to the rapid spread of disease and unclean living conditions. People ate alongside the waste of their livestock, which resulted in devastating famines caused by droughts.

As a result of the Neolithic Revolution, life expectancy and quality of life declined. People died at younger ages due to epidemics, and happiness was elusive. It’s a stark reminder that progress doesn’t always equate to a better life. Sometimes, the simplest way of living can be the best.

Perhaps we could all benefit from taking a page out of our ancestors’ book and strive for a balanced diet and a nomadic lifestyle. It may not be the most glamorous way of life, but it worked for our forefathers.

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Lesson 2: In the last 250 years, mortality rates have sharply decreased due to social, political, economic, and scientific advancements.

In wealthy countries such as the United Kingdom, life expectancy has increased by 30 years in the last century alone. How did this development come about? This remarkable improvement in life expectancy can largely be attributed to the decline in infant mortality.

Until recently, infant mortality rates were extremely high and life expectancy was low. Yet many countries have reduced infant mortality to less than 1% thanks to advances in medical technology and disease prevention. This progress is particularly remarkable when compared to the fact that just a few centuries ago, three-quarters of children didn’t reach the age of five.

Thanks to advances in nutrition, health care and education, most modern babies in industrialized countries can expect to live to see their grandchildren and, in some cases, even their great-grandchildren.

The dissemination of scientific information and other breakthroughs have also contributed significantly to lowering mortality and morbidity rates. Health and mortality rates have improved and decreased in many countries thanks to scientific breakthroughs such as germ theory, stable governments, better sanitation, and increasing research into disease prevention and treatment.

By the end of the nineteenth century, for example, London had improved its sanitation to the point where the government could more effectively combat the cholera epidemic that broke out there in 1854.

However, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that everything went smoothly. Between 1959 and 1961, for example, some 30 million Chinese fell victim to the Great Famine. And then there are the 34 million people who died from HIV/AIDS. Nor should we forget that children around the world are still getting sick and dying from easily preventable causes such as cholera, measles and diarrhea.

Lesson 3: In developing countries, infant mortality rates remain alarmingly high.

We may be living in the 21st century, but infant mortality rates in some of the world’s poorest countries remain alarmingly high. And why is that? Don’t we already know that diseases and epidemics can be easily prevented with good hygiene and affordable vaccinations? Of course, we do! But sometimes, governments lack the backbone to implement such changes, and locals lack the education to comprehend the significance of these minor adjustments.

Picture this: children dying of easily treatable diseases like diarrhea or starving for years before succumbing to an infection because of their weakened immune systems. It’s heartbreaking! And to make matters worse, many low-income countries don’t offer universal access to government-funded medical care, leaving millions without adequate healthcare. It’s no secret that countries like the United Kingdom invest a much larger share of their GDP in healthcare than countries like Zambia and Senegal. It’s high time that these countries realize that the health of their citizens should be a top priority.

But here’s the kicker: the world is filled with undemocratic states that put themselves above their people. Only the wealthy have access to quality healthcare, while the poor suffer and lose their children to preventable diseases. Many people aren’t even aware of their rights as citizens or that their government can and should help them improve their health. It’s time to wake up and educate ourselves!

Let’s get one thing straight: healthcare should be a top priority for every government. According to the Gallup World Poll, people around the world believe that creating new jobs should be a top priority for their governments. Healthcare? It ranks dead last. We need to change this mindset and make people realize that good health is the foundation of a prosperous nation. It’s time for governments to step up and take responsibility for their citizens’ health.

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Lesson 4: Caring for the aging population is a significant challenge faced by industrialized nations.

As a society, we have made tremendous strides in increasing life expectancy, but it’s time to acknowledge that we may be approaching a limit in our strategies. While we have succeeded in increasing the average life expectancy of young people, we are struggling to do the same for older people.

One of the biggest challenges we face is chronic diseases. Cancer, heart disease, and pneumonia are the top three killers of older people in developed countries. And while billions of dollars are invested in finding cures and preventing these diseases, we must recognize that increasing spending in this area may not be the best solution.

For example, in the United States, healthcare accounts for more than 18% of taxable income, double the global average. Yet, life expectancy in the U.S. falls short of many other wealthy nations. Instead, we need to focus on improving education and increasing the standard of living. These two factors have proven to be crucial in preventing disease.

Moreover, modern lifestyle is one of the most significant social and medical innovations of our time. Our society is much healthier now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, and we are less dependent on tobacco use. People are working longer hours because they understand the benefits of living long, happy lives.

Ultimately, we need to shift our focus from merely pouring money into health programs and hoping for the best. Instead, we must take a holistic approach to prevent chronic diseases and promote healthy living. By prioritizing education and the standard of living, we can work towards a healthier future.

Lesson 5: Inequality exists in every country, with the greatest gap between nations.

Inequality is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? When most of us hear the word, we think of the gap between the rich and the poor in our own country. And yes, that’s a problem. But if we want to really understand the scale of the issue, we need to zoom out and look at it on an international level.

It’s true that inequality exists in every country, but the differences between countries are where we see the starkest contrasts. Before the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, most countries were relatively equal – the main economic divide was between wealthy landowners and impoverished peasants. But with the rise of the middle class and the decline of aristocracy, those enormous gaps began to close.

Unfortunately, not every country has been able to keep up with the times. Some nations have benefited greatly from technological advances and intellectual innovation, while others have fallen behind. Many countries in Africa and East Asia, for example, are still struggling to develop while the US and much of Europe enjoy a high standard of living.

In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty more than doubled in Africa from 1981 to 2008 – from 169 million to 303 million. And the wealth gap between countries has not been completely eliminated, even in wealthy nations like the US. While it’s true that America is a wealthy nation, it also has serious inequality problems.

Most of the wealth in the US is held by the top one percent of incomes, leaving the rest of the population struggling to make ends meet. Even affording basic necessities like housing and food can be a challenge. And living in poverty has far-reaching consequences beyond just making ends meet – it can make it more difficult to participate in civic and political life and drastically reduces the likelihood of completing post-secondary education.

On the other hand, the top 0.01 percent of incomes – who control a staggering 4.5 percent of total US revenue – are getting even richer thanks to tax breaks and other preferential treatment. In some ways, it feels like we’re creating a new aristocracy.

So what can we do? We need to keep pushing for progress and fighting for policies that promote equality. That means supporting education and job training programs that provide real opportunities for people to build better lives. It means reforming our tax system so that everyone pays their fair share, not just the working and middle classes. And it means challenging the status quo and standing up for what’s right.

We’ve come a long way since the days of aristocracy, but there’s still work to be done.

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1. Capturing a Picture of Human Progress

Deaton’s ability to capture a picture of human progress is perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the book. He does this by examining the world through the lenses of economics and public health, and identifying the big heroes of the story – sanitation, germ theory, industrialization, and literacy. Through his analysis, Deaton shows how these factors have been essential in the escape from abject poverty by hundreds of millions of people over the past three decades.

2. An Optimistic Assessment of Progress

Another aspect of the book that we liked is Deaton’s optimistic assessment of the progress that has been made in terms of human well-being. Despite acknowledging the challenges that currently confront us, Deaton demonstrates how hundreds of millions of people have managed to escape abject poverty in recent years. He is a master at using data to make his points, and his prose is as lucid as his charts.

3. A Balanced Discussion on Foreign Aid

Deaton’s critique of foreign aid is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the book. While he raises valid concerns about the effectiveness of aid, he also acknowledges that the evidence on aid effectiveness is inconclusive, largely due to the poor quality of the data.

However, his even-handedness and open-mindedness about other economic matters in other areas of the book does mean that we are more willing to fully consider his arguments on this issue than we might have been from someone who had not demonstrated such qualities on other issues.


1. Slow and Repetitive

One of the most significant frustrations with the book is its slow pace. The author takes a long time to make his points, often repeating them multiple times. While it is understandable that some readers may appreciate the level of detail, others may find it tedious and repetitive.

2. Ridiculous Analogies

Another frustration with the book is the use of ridiculous analogies. For example, the author compares wage inequality to the idea of children earning different amounts of allowance according to how tidy they keep their rooms. This analogy is not only confusing but also unhelpful in illustrating the complex concept of inequality.

3. Lack of a Defined Thesis

The book covers many topics, but it lacks a clear thesis. The author spends a significant amount of time discussing concepts that are easy to understand, but without a clear direction, the reader may feel lost. While the book may be informative for those who are unfamiliar with the subject matter, it is not revolutionary and does not add much to the existing body of knowledge.


To sum up, I highly recommend The Great Escape to anyone interested in economics. It’s a thought-provoking book that, with some reflection, can positively impact your life.

While many people in wealthy countries now enjoy a high standard of living thanks to technology and government progress, there are still many nations that require assistance to achieve even a basic level of development.

About The Author

Princeton University professor Angus Deaton, who teaches at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics. Among his other works are The Analysis of Household Surveys and Economics and Consumer Behavior.

Buy The Book: The Great Escape

If you want to buy the book The Great Escape, you can get it from the following links:

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