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The Corporation That Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational [Paperback]

Nick Robins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2012
The English East India Company was the mother of the modern multinational. Its trading empire encircled the globe, importing Asian luxuries such as spices, textiles and teas. But it also conquered much of India with its private army and broke open China's markets with opium. The Company’s practices shocked its contemporaries and still reverberate today.

The Corporation That Changed the World is the first book to reveal the Company’s enduring legacy as a corporation. This expanded edition explores how the four forces of scale, technology, finance and regulation drove its spectacular rise and fall. For decades, the Company was simply too big to fail, and stock market bubbles, famines, drug-running and even duels between rival executives are to be found in this new account.

For Robins, the Company’s story provides vital lessons on both the role of corporations in world history and the steps required to make global business accountable today.

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The Corporation That Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational + The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company + Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India
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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Pluto Press; 2 edition (5 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745331955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745331959
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


A powerful analysis of the rise and fall of the British East India Company, a private company that conquered a subcontinent and subjugated an entire people. (Huw Bowen, Professor of Imperial and Maritime History, Swansea University)

Elegantly written and sharply argued, Nick Robins’ gripping account of the rise and fall of the English East India Company brings to life a crucial episode in the history of globalization. (Sankar Muthu, Princeton University)

At a time when every new business crisis is greeted with cries of 'We never saw that coming', Nick Robins demonstrates the importance of understanding history. The East India Company might have been relegated to the dustbin of history, but Robins digs it out, looks into the nooks and crannies, and comes up with plenty of insights that today's managers will find rich and rewarding. (Mick Blowfield, Senior Research Fellow at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, co-author of Corporate Responsibility (2011))

Nick Robins' history of astonishing corporate greed, excess and abuse of power is brilliantly told, and perfectly timed. (Isabel Hilton, Editor of China Dialogue)

The book is a brilliant, important contribution to an understanding of development and poverty. (Mari Marcel Thekaekara, New Internationalist)

About the Author

Nick Robins has more than 20 years experience in the policy and practical realities of corporate accountability. A historian by training, he currently works on sustainable and responsible investment in London, and has written on the East India Company for the Financial Times, New Statesman and Resurgence.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am reliably informed that school kids nowadays are taught in detail about this important and fascinating subject. Certainly in China and India, the way the East India Company "Changed the World" has for decades informed part of their self identity and their economic history narratives. But for the rest of you, who may feel like me that this subject was under represented in our education, this excellent book is the best way to to make amends.

And what a story it is. All economic life is here. I started to make a list (in alphabetical order) of the facets and issues which the company's history throws up; Agency / principle issues, Boston tea party, business ethics, capture of the political system, corruption, drug dealing, economies of scale, exploitation, famine, government bail-outs, gunboat diplomacy, imperialism, insider dealing, military conflict, monopoly, outsourcing of government services, protectionism, racism, regulation, speculation, terms of trade. And I am sure you will find more! Also notable figures from history crop up in connection; Adam Smith, Duke of Wellington, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Thomas Malthus.

So why did this company change the world? The answer is that it did so in many small ways, but the big central point is this; 300 years ago, both China and large parts of what is now India were in all practical ways, more economically accomplished and well placed than Europe. They had thriving production in goods that Europe soon fell in love with, like spices, cotton clothes, porcelain and later tea. Europe and Britain on the other hand produced nothing that caused such consumer desire in these oriental countries, and therefore gold and silver had to flow in the opposite direction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HERE WE ARE NOW 19 Jan 2013
Reading this book has made it blindingly obvious to me that the nature of men has enabled the nature of man to evolve.
The EIC in my view created the environment for the Enlightenment to come about. The profits from the EIC allowed the West the time to think.
Western philosophy built upon Eastern and Middle Eastern Philosophy and the Enlightenment occurred. This is something we can all be grateful for.
Without the EIC I doubt this would have happened. I stress this is history and not the way forward.
I would like to thank you Nick and look forward to joining in your walk.

Initially I gave four stars, which I class as excellent. I save five stars for books that will change the world. This book will most certainly change the minds of many Brits and those abroad who are not fully aware of this history.

Re corporate behaviour, it would be a waste of time and money to try and legislate against 'the invisible hand'. Having spent many years as an executive in an International Corporate Environment I have to say I do not recognise this psychopathic behaviour ( only slightly psychopathic!). Even the most fearsome SVP was a pussy cat deep down and always had the interest of the company at heart. I think having a few females around keeps men on their best behaviour and Vice Versa, although too many women would be a disaster (in a corporate environment). Both the males and the females need to be the strongest.

Females, not legislation will probably soften this corporate 'city' behaviour referred to in the book. Any company or country that does not allow equal opportunity to all, is like a plane trying to take off with just one engine running. It will just keep going round in circles/cycles.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much changes in business! 13 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating timeline on how big business has developed over the centuries, how business and governments have started as friends and then things turn ugly. The same corporate challenges as we see today. And often the same personalities emerging.
Invaluable as a background to the growth of the capitalist model and where it can lead if not held in check.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This British company may have done great things, language, law and railways but it exploited Bengal and no doubt can be held responsible for the impoverished and exploited state that is Bangladesh today. This book tells the story of the EIC, next time you hear Land of Hope and Glory you might want to sing quietly.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject,but disapointing treatment 17 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Having watched the tv series I was looking forward to reading this but have to say I was disappointed. It read more as a thesis than a history book, I found it very dry. There were almost no anecdotes or individual stories relating to the people involved. It was well researched but despite there being so many letters and accounts of life under the Company on record, the author seems to have chosen to ignore to ignore the human side almost totally. Its very rare for me not to finish a book but I didn't get to the end of this.
I wish Thomas Asbridge had written this
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