A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World

Adam Smith wrote that man has an intrinsic “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” But how did trade evolve to the point where we don’t think twice about biting into an apple from the other side of the world?

In A Splendid Exchange, William J. Bernstein tells the extraordinary story of global commerce from its prehistoric origins to the myriad controversies surrounding it today. He begins in ancient Mesopotamia, where early traders floated barley, copper, and ivory up and down the Tigris and Euphrates, and he moves on to the Greeks, whose grain trade helped ignite the Peloponnesian War. He transports readers from the ships that carried silk from China to Rome on monsoon gales in the second century to the rise and fall of the Portuguese monopoly in spices in the sixteenth; from the rush for sugar that brought the British to Jamaica in 1655 to the American trade battles of the early twentieth century; from key innovations such as steam, steel, and refrigeration to the modern era of televisions from Taiwan, lettuce from Mexico, and T-shirts from China.

Along the way, Bernstein, who is both a gifted storyteller and an accomplished economic theorist, brings to life a gallery of fascinating characters and synthesizes thousands of years of history–social, cultural, political, military, and economic–into a rich and engaging narrative. He explores how our age-old dependency on trade has contributed to our planet’s agricultural bounty, stimulated intellectual progress, and made us both prosperous and vulnerable. Bernstein concludes that although the impulse to trade often takes a backseat to xenophobia and war, it is ultimately a force for good among nations, and he argues that societies are far more successful and stable when they are involved in vigorous trade with their neighbors.

Lively, authoritative, and astonishing in scope, A Splendid Exchange is a riveting narrative that views trade and globalization not in political terms, but rather as an evolutionary process as old as war and religion–a historical constant–that will continue to foster the growth of intellectual capital, shrink the world, and propel the trajectory of the human species.

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