[I'm submitting this review again to fix errors in my review which is currently posted]
Here at last is a collection of Wallerstein's essays that span his entire career. This will be useful as a text for an advanced undergraduate class, or for interested readers, because it covers such a wide spectrum of IW's thought. His arguments are quite compelling and after digesting Wallerstein's analysis, one will not view our world the same way. It begins with an interesting introduction on his personal path-breaking arrival at world-systems as units of analysis (as opposed to nation-states, etc.).
One can trace this development through the four sections of essays. The first covers his work on Africa which led him, like those working at the time on Latin America, to realize that nations-states are not independently developing societies, but political units of a larger whole in which people are interconnected geo-politically, economically, and socially. But unlike most dependency theorists, Wallerstein looked for the origins of underdevelopment in the transition from capitalism to socialism, which brought him to Braudel, the late great French historian. Under Braudel's influence, Wallerstein broke through the earlier debates on where and when capitalism began by focusing on one key problem: how people are historically linked to each other such that they form a social whole, and, how one measures this whole geographically. The answer: an extensive division of labor or a political economy.
Few could have accomplished what Wallerstein did in his detailed studies of capitalism, beginning with the monumental Modern World-System I (1974), in terms of the elegant theorizing that he developed on the basis of an exhaustive study of the literature(s) that covered myriad and subtle points of debate among historians over the transition to capitalism. The key points of his research are summed up in the second set of essays. Whereas others failed to see the interconnections (e.g. Perry, 1974), Wallerstein showed how and why different regions changed politically, economically, and socially as a result of being part of the same system.
Regardless of whether one agrees that the 1450-1750 period can be characterized as full-blown capitalism or not, it is difficult to refute Wallerstein's argument that what was then the "Third World" (New Spain and Eastern Europe) was in fact part of the same social system as was Western and Southern Europe). To hold fast to the deepness of the integration of areas is something which other world-systemists, including AG Frank, have recently neglected, and who have misinterpreted long distance commercial as binding ties of *significant,* or integrative, historical causality.
The third set of essays examines the major institutions of the modern world-system, including the "economic" aspects of its cycles of growth and stagnation in relation to the geographic spread of the system (the spread and density of commodity chains), and how class and social relations (e.g. households) change in different ways in the three main areas of global stratification -- core, semiperiphery, and periphery -- but how they system stays ideologically glued by the notion, or rather myth, of national development.
In the final set of essays, Wallerstein argues how this notion, and the entire ideological carapace of capitalism, including the social sciences, has become unglued, and how the system is entering into a long period (50 years or so) of decay. The insights are plentiful and gripping, especially the prognosis for the future -- which is what the entire project is really about: to understand the past to effectively change the present and direct the future toward a better global society. The weakness of Wallerstein's work in general, however, with his focus on the structural regularities (with the main exception of the limits of geographic expansion that are key to the system's demise), is a tendency to see capitalism as *essentially* the same from 1550 to the recent present. This stands in contrast to more recent writers working either at the same global level, such as Giovanni Arrighi (see his 1994 magnum opus), or those who combine global and local (anthropological) levels, such as Dale Tomich (1989) who offers a theoretically powerful and historically specific study of modern slavery. Nonetheless, Wallerstein is a must read for all concerned with globalization and the future of our world.