The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea Paperback – 7 Jan 2005
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A unique history of Britain's most influential invention - from the East India Company to Enron
The present day might be called a corporate age but the power of the company is nothing new: From Renaissance Italy to the British East India Company, it is impossible to understand the history of the last few hundred years without placing the humble company at the centre of the picture. What other institution could have produced the slave trade, opium wars, the stock market and the British Empire, the 'company man' and globalization? The history of the company includes some shocking tales, since companies have always rewarded some of the most greedy and unscrupulous - but they have also undoubtedly shaped the modern world. Today companies are increasingly regulated, but will there always be a new South Sea Bubble or another Enron? The authors extend their historical account to look at the company's future, which is, surprisingly, as smaller and more diverse. They explode the myth of a 'silent takeover' by corporations and challenge the assumptions of the anti-globalization movement, but make the ongoing power of the company abundantly clear.See all Product description
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The last half drags a little, compared to the tightly-written first two-thirds, mostly because it's too focussed on particular events in modern times. Also the book focusses on US/UK rather than the world as a whole. This latter neglect is a reasonable choice, and works well.
Over all, I highly recommend this book: I don't know of any competition that approaches the well-referenced confidence that it brings to the topic.
It deals with subjects that might otherwise be considered to be "heavy" in a very engaging way, with lots of anecdotes and humour, without ever missing its main target of providing a serious examination of a major social phenomenon that has passed most non-academic commentators by.
Forget War, Plague or Famine; for most of the Western world -- since, say, 1750 -- History has been the way that the greater part of the population has earned its living and the economic conditions under which it has flourished (or not). This book shows the critical importance of the company in history and the pivotal role it has played in mobilising economic growth.
If there is one criticism -- aside from the excruciating typographical errors -- it is that the overall impression, at the conclusion, is one of smugness about both what the company has been made to achieve and about the future of the company.
Don't be put off by the apparent dryness of the subject matter, this really is a litle gem that throws light on a largely unexamined theme of history.
I finally understood the origin of the US term 'Trust' as in 'Anti-trust'.
It was also interesting to see the role the Railways had played in causing the Company to evolve, from the limited-time partnerships of the Sailing Ships to the 'ownership' by the Pension Funds.
Only one irritation - the sub-editor must have been asleep reviewing the proofs. Each page contains genuine hyphenated terms such as 'joint-stock' and 'Anglo-Saxon', but there are rogue hyphenations such as in 'chap-ter', 'Car-negie', 'custom-ers', 'Gas-kell', and you keep having to re-read them to see what they mean? I found them in 5 different chapters, so its not as if only one piece of text was added/removed and threw out the pagination?
Although Micklethwait and Wooldridge do indeed provide "a short history of a revolutionary idea," their book is remarkably comprehensive as it traces the evolution of commercial structure from merchants and monopolists (3000 B.C. -- 1500) through imperialists and speculators (1500-1750) and the "prolonged and painful birth" of the limited-liability joint-stock company (1750-1862) before shifting their and the reader's attention to the rise of big business in America (1862-1913), the rise of big business in Britain, Germany, and Japan (1850-1950), the triumph of managerial capitalism (1913-1975), and what they characterize as "the corporate paradox" (1975-2002) before examining "agents of influence: multinationals (1850-2002) in the final chapter. All this, and done very well indeed, in less than 200 pages! For those interested in further study of any/all of the periods and subjects they discuss, Micklethwait and Wooldridge provide an exceptionally informative "Bibliographic Note" section, followed by all of the footnotes in which additional recommendations are included.
Congratulations to Micklethwait and Wooldridge on what I consider to be a brilliant achievement, one which combines scholarship of the highest order with narrative skills worthy of Austen, Thackeray, and Dickens.