This book by William Berstein is a must read for all those who are interested in the politics and economics of trade. The Economist carried a good review of the book. I could not agree more with their assessment of Bernstein’s book. It indeed is a fascinating read and leaves you much wiser than before. Having said this, I would like to jot down certain points of criticism.
Along with providing evidence for our eternal urge to truck and barter, the book also brings to light the frequent human desire to consume at whatever cost it takes. It is an important lesson to learn that trade has shaped the world and we all have immensely benefited from it. However, we should not lose sight of the extent to which greedy nations and corporations will go to enjoy the goodies of trade. Wiping out a complete island for nutmeg by the Dutch or the atrocities committed by the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean is a case in point.
The author thus, fails to note that not all exchange can be called as trade, at least by today’s textbook definition. If the Portuguese, Dutch or the English seized political control in order to secure supplies that cannot be termed as beneficial trade.
Even though the book successfully tells the story of how trade shaped the world, it tells the story primarily from western point of view. So much so that at times I felt the title should have been how trade shaped the “Western” world. The story of how centuries of trade affected the economies of China & India gets at best an incidental description. This is in spite of the fact that the silk route and the spice route originated in these countries. Of course one could argue that it is the story for atleast two additional books!
In spite of these lacunae, I think the book does a pretty good job of putting history of trade in perspective.