At points dry, but in general, a perspective-providing look at some aspects of history, examining them through mostly a commercial lens (e.g. the development of X region was caused by Y commodity).
What It’s About
Presented as a short series of essays, this book analyzes history through a lens focused mostly on commerce.
Events in history and changes in historical regions/powers are picked apart, and it’s fascinating to see one very plausible explanation for why things happened the way they did (or why people and companies did certain things).
Soap is an example: people have naturally washed themselves for centuries, but only in recent times (and thanks to strong ad campaigns) has dirtiness/sweat become something negative, rather than a sign of exertion.
The book is dry sometimes, but having a series of essays helps to break up the monotony, and if you really engage with it (e.g. imagine and flesh out the characters and companies in your head, asking yourself what you would have done in similar situations and why), it helps you gain a lot of perspective.
Why I picked it
I was recommended it by my dad, and brought it along on vacation. I might never have read it otherwise, but am glad I did.
What I got out of it
I mostly got perspective out of it, as well as historical tidbits out of it.
The biggest thing I got out of it – which is rather obvious in retrospect – is that nations are made out of their citizens, and companies are made out of their employees and owners, and each and every one is a human being, with all that entails.
Companies and nations alike did horrendous things in search of profit and trade, and it’s easy to skim over it: oh yeah, Britain forced China to trade with them at gunpoint. Then you drill down and realize that was a course of action chosen by imperfect humans with imperfect knowledge, with yes, terrible consequences.
It shifted my paradigm from seeing companies as faceless entities that appear in news headlines and sell products, to groups of imperfect people – people who are in many ways like me – who have organized methods for reaching specific goals, and those methods and goals are just their values and knowledge in macro.
Who I’d recommend it to
Amateur historians, anybody wanting to learn a little more about why the world is the way it is now.
People who want to shed more light on the forces that shape the world around us, and don’t mind more academic texts than the narrative-focused popular books like Malcolm Gladwell, etc.