At a certain point in my college career, I considered pursuing a degree in Intellectual History. Plain old History is one damn thing after another and Intellectual History–according to my professors–makes sense of all those damn things that happened. Johan Norberg’s Open: The Story of Human Progress argues that societies that foster openness do better than societies that are closed.

Norberg presents plenty of evidence that countries that allowed freedom and encouraged innovation had higher standard of livings and more prosperity than the closed countries. But, freedom and innovation threaten powerful elites and they can diminish freedom and reject innovation. Burning libraries and banning books are just tools for the regimes that want to control their populations.

Knowledge is power and dictators fear it. Societies that reject educating women, countries that suppress news on TV and in the press, regimes that poison opponents all face declining economies and civil unrest. Johan Norberg convinced me with his evidence and logic that openness is the way to go. Are you a History buff? GRADE: A

Table of Contents

Introduction: Traders and tribalists 1

Part I Open

1 Open exchange 19

2 Open doors 68

3 Open minds 124

4 Open societies 167

Part II Closed

5 Us and them 213

6 Zero-sum 248

7 Anticipatory anxiety 286

8 Fight or flight 334

Open or closed? 362

Acknowledgements 383

Notes 385

Index 418

20 thoughts on “OPEN: THE STORY OF HUMAN PROGRESS By Johan Norberg

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    I had history as my minor in college. Don’t remember any courses in intellectual history ever being offered. I probably would not have taken it anyways. Sounds to much like philosophy which I hated. I had a whole semester on Kant. I would rather put a gun to my head than take that course again. His premises seem to make sense but this doesn’t sound like something I would pick up.

  2. wolf

    Looks really interesting!
    Right now some politicians in Europe are fighting against “the open society”, giving off nationalist propaganda, trying to produce fear of everything foreign to many people like LGBT, Jews and Muslims …
    Sometimes I feel so disappointed that people don’t see how far we’ve come, especially with the EU.
    When I was young I read a lot about history but I was always wondering:
    Why did Europe have at least one major war in every generation?
    I had the feeling that some of those crazy kings and emperors (and we had many of them …) considered this a kind of game – as soon as they got enough young soldiers again they’d start a war with anyone they didn’t agree with.
    And of course religion played a large role, if you prayed in a different way you were in danger of being burned at the stake.

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, Johan Norberg explores the costs to closing societies. Governments argue that closed societies are “safer” when the opposite is more likely based on History.

  3. Michael Padgett

    I’d never find the time to read something like this although I do applaud you for reading it and bringing it to our attention. It would likely take me weeks to read this, and I’d always have one eye on my TBR stack.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, I know the feeling. It takes time to tackle a book like OPEN, but at least once a month I try to read a Big Fat Book (500+ pages). Now, I focused on much shorter books for the next week or two.

  4. Deb

    I like reading history (I have a minor it in), but I sure hate living through it—especially since the utterly delusional GOP (I was just reading a CNN poll yesterday which showed over 50% of Republicans believe that the insurrectionists were BLM & Antifa “actors”—God help us!) seems bound and determined to force us back to a far less open society on so many fronts. Sigh.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, the Senate Trial documents Trump’s incitement to storm the Capitol. The 43 GOP Senators who voted to let Trump off the hook will be judged by History. And Mitch McConnell’s vote to Acquit and speech denouncing Trump will go into the Dictionary under “weasel behavior.”

    2. maggie mason

      One question I’d like answered: If the insurrectionists were BLM & Antifa, why didn’t the POS call out the guard to protect the Capitol??

      I’m only reading for pleasure/review. I just finished the Andrew Cotter book: Olive, Mabel & Me, life with 2 very good dogs. It’s the first non fiction book I’ve read in years and I loved it. If you haven’t seen his videos on You Tube, you’re missing out on much needed laughs (fetid pond and penguin races were my favorites). Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for introducing me to Cotter & his videos.

  5. Patti Abbott

    I was a history major but mostly took courses in things like Nazi Germany, Ancient Rome, History of Feminism, Vietnam. Nothing this fluid. Sounds good to me though. I don’t want to think about Trump any more. That is the one thing I am sure of. I avoided taking courses on American history even then.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, like you I took the minimum of American History courses in College (2 were required). But the Intellectual History course interested me (and it was at the right time in my course schedule). I still remember writing a term paper for that class on Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter. Later, I read Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics.. Nothing has really changed since then.

  6. Jeff Meyerson

    Yes, I majored in history. Plenty of American and British history courses. I’ve always wanted to read Gibbon’s DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, as I know little about that period of history. I don’t think I’d read this one, but it does sound interesting.

  7. Dan

    Interesting thoughts at a time when some foreign governments are publicizing 1/6 as proof that open societies are inherently dangerous and unstable.

    1. george Post author

      Dan, interpreting “historical facts” is a Black Art. Proponents of closed societies (you can read Plato’s THE REPUBLIC for the ultimate template) always want control. In open societies events can spin into chaos without discipline and civility.

  8. Jerry House

    I saw the words “Human Progress” in the title and my thoughts went immediately to January 6 and to Trump’s acquittal and the snarky part of my brain went, “Yeah, right.”

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, remember: the movie is still running on Trump and the GOP. It didn’t stop with the Senate Trial. All the weasels who voted to Acquit Trump will pay a price. And History will judge them harshly!


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