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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review of the anti-Eurocentric debate, 13 Mar 2010
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate (Paperback)
Sir Jack Goody's book "Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate" does what its title promises: it describes a debate, nothing more, nothing less. This work, written in 2004, analyzes the historical debate about the origins of modernity and/or capitalism as well as the related question of the 'superiority' of the West in the economic and military fields, with commentary from the author. He discusses and refutes (once again) the main Eurocentric authors, such as David Landes and Lynn White, and afterwards discusses in turn the other side of the coin, with such luminaries as Wallerstein, A.G. Frank, James Blaut and Pomeranz.

Goody is always highly polite and considerate, even to the most egregious of incompetents (Landes), and this does not necessarily improve the effect his commentary has, for example when compared with the polemics of Blaut. Therefore, as yet another refutation of the Eurocentric perspective it isn't much. But what is new and interesting is that in turn he also discusses the main anti-Eurocentric authors, both in some depth looking at the coherence of their explanations as well as comparing them with each other. In so doing, he points out some of the flaws in otherwise excellent historians of this trend. With Blaut, he points out that the latter pays essentially no attention to Africa or the Americas and their own development path, and with Frank, he notes that he essentially reduces the entirety of economic history to mere trade flows and in particular bullion, which is in terms of economic theory a reversal from Marx to Adam Smith or even the mercantilists. Nonetheless, as becomes clear in the last chapter, Goody himself shares still some of Frank's flaws in a tendency to 'flatten out' the whole of global economic history. He thereby plays down the degree to which the slow progressive quantitative development of certain trends, such as urbanization and manufacturing, turn into qualitative revolutionary leaps and changes in identifiable modes of production. Just like Frank, he also does not understand the point of a mode of production, although he is less hostile to it: Goody emphasizes that wage labour has existed from the Bronze Age on and that manufacturing investors existed in the Middle Ages, but all this is irrelevant - what matters is not what class or caste existed at any given point, but how the whole of a society was reproduced. It is precisely the importance of reproduction, rather than just distribution and trade, to understanding economic history that was one of Marx's great breakthroughs.

Goody's book is an excellent review of the state of the debate in any case, and as always with his works very readable and moderate in tone, allowing the reader to form his or her own opinion on the matter. Most of his commentary is well-considered and well-informed, and in a fairly short work (160 pages of actual text) he manages to provide a lot of information and useful evaluation. Therefore, I can definitely recommend this book to people interested in economic history and/or historiography.
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Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate
Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate by Jack Goody (Paperback - 12 Feb 2004)
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