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The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of the World Trade, 2nd Edition Paperback – February 9, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Engrossing….(Rivoli) goes wherever the t-shirt goes and there are surprises around every corner…full of memorable characters and vivid scenes." (TIME)

"An engaging and illuminating saga…Rivoli follows her T-shirt along its route, but that is like saying that Melville follows his whale…Her nuanced and fair-minded approach is all the more powerful for eschewing the pretense of ideological absolutism, and her telescopic look through a single industry has all the makings of an economics classic." (New York Times)

"…Succeeds admirably… T-shirts may not have changed the world, but this story is a useful account of how free trade and protectionism certainly have." (Financial Times)

"Rarely is a business book so well written that one would gladly stay up all night to finish it..."  (CIO: Chief Information Officer Magazine, June 15, 2005)

"Globalization is a hot-button topic that generates strong feelings along with images of boarded-up, independent businesses in America and exploitative sweatshops overseas. But what exactly is it? Rivoli chronicles the round-the-world odyssey of a T-shirt, from Texas cotton-growers to an African used-clothing bazaar, to reveal how the planetary economy really works. Whether you feel hurt or helped by globalization, you'll certainly understand it better after reading this fascinating account." (Entrepreneur Magazine)

"The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is an excellent piece of work - a thorough, lucid and (best of all) honest examination of how politics and economics intertwine in the real world." (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

"…a fascinating exploration of the history, economics and politics of world trade…The Travels of a T-Shirt is a thought-provoking yarn that exhibits the ugly, the bad and the good of globalization, and points to the unintended positive consequences of the clash between the proponents and opponents of free trade." (Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

"…a readable and evenhanded treatment of the complexities of world trade… As Rivoli repeatedly makes clear, there is absolutely nothing free about free trade except the slogan." (San Francisco Chronicle)

From the Back Cover

Praise for The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

"Engrossing... [Rivoli] goes wherever the T-shirt goes and there are surprises around every corner....full of memorable characters and vivid scenes."

—Time

"An engaging and illuminating saga . . . Rivoli follows her T-shirt along its route, but that is like saying that Melville follows his whale . . . Her nuanced and fair-minded approach is all the more powerful for eschewing the pretense of ideological absolutism, and her telescopic look through a single industry has all the makings of an economics classic."

—The New York Times

"Rarely is a business book so well written that one would gladly stay up all night to finish it. Rivoli's The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is just such a page-turner."

—CIO magazine

"Succeeds admirably...T-shirts may not have changed the world, but their story is a useful account of how free trade and protectionism certainly have."

—Financial Times

"A readable and evenhanded treatment of the complexities of world trade... As Rivoli repeatedly makes clear, there is absolutely nothing free about free trade except the slogan."

—San Francisco Chronicle

"A fascinating exploration of the history, economics, and politics of world trade...The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is a thought-provoking yarn that exhibits the ugly, the bad, and the good of globalization, and points to the unintended positive consequences of the clash between proponents and opponents of free trade."

—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 2 edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470287160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470287163
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I had the good fortune to be Pietra Rivoli's student years ago --a once in a lifetime experience. Her fascinating lectures never lose your attention the moment she begins speaking, and her book produces much the same effect: you will lose sleep and forget to eat as you stay up reading this story of international mystery.

Her story transports you across continents and centuries from the scene at which a freshly minted Yale graduate revolutionized the world with his invention in 1793; to the heart of modern cotton country; to the trading ports of 18th century Asia; to the inner workings of the halls of power in Washington; to the wacky woolens industry of pre-industrial Great Britain; to a fascinating bazaar in Dar Es Salaam. As Rivoli takes you through this riveting journey, you absorb the surprising economic, political and human insights and lessons that took her years of international adventure and research to uncover. As only the best authors can, Rivoli miraculously manages to impart the reader with years of exhaustively researched and painstakingly-acquired knowledge in one exhilarating read.

Simply put, reading this book is the most enjoyable way you can enrich your mind on the history and future of international trade, protectionism, globalism, and labor activism. I agree that it ought to be required reading for all students of these subjects.
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Format: Paperback
Every so often I read a book that makes me wish I could build a course around it. I would love to teach a media literacy class from Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media", or a human geography class from Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel", for two examples. I had that rare feeling also for Pietra Rivoli's "The Travels of a T-Shirt In The Global Economy", except that in this case I was able to bring that urge to fruition. Teaching high school economics is challenging, to say the least, and rarely lends itself to any one singular vision. It is a survey course, with state-mandated standards that must all be checked off by the end of the year. Aside from textbooks, which usually leave much to be desired, meaningful text almost always must be drawn from a plethora of sources, sorted by the standard addressed, and photocopied or projected onto a screen for the students. This is why Rivoli's book is such a windfall for econ teachers. This is a book that directly addresses and informs most of the introductory economics standards. The author draws insights on various economic concepts directly from economists, policymakers, farmers, laborers, scientists, business owners and others. Heavy use of primary sources like these is of great benefit in the classroom. You can see ears perk up when excerpts (in the book) from Eli Whitney's letters are read, or from letters written by young women working in textile mills, for a few examples.

With regards to standards addressed, I will mention just a few of the many. Productivity is an early focal point of the book, and slavery, the cotton gin, the tractor (after the mule), advanced fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds are all explored, and those passages make for great lesson starters.
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The second edition of "The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy" claims to address heightened concerns about trade's impact on climate change and multinational offshoring, but to do so adequately would require a far more comprehensive revision. Her book's primary motive was to address turn-of-the-century concerns about unfettered market competition leading to a race-to-the-bottom in labor conditions. These concerns seem quaint today as America struggles with near-10% unemployment and rising global temperatures. Meanwhile, the anti-sweatshop movement has largely addressed many of the problems that originally motivated the book. Nevertheless, this book should be required reading for any adult missing the big picture of the global economy.

The typical American view of globalization is no longer that rich countries are exploiting developing country workers, but rather that China and multinationals are reaping the benefits of lax environmental standards while stealing American jobs. In contrast to 1999, Americans are no longer surprised to discover that Chinese workers prefer manufacturing jobs over subsistence agricultural. Americans falsely believe China's manufacturing output dwarfs their own (this is only true for employment). This shift from selfless to selfish anti-globalization concerns could motivate a larger revision to this book.

The book's prologue concludes with the dramatic revelation that the author's Chinese t-shirt supplier imports cotton from America. This is anathema to the rising "buy local" movement. How can an environmentally efficient world possibly produce a t-shirt by shipping cotton from America to China and then back to America? How can China be producing t-shirts when so many unskilled Americans are unemployed?
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Format: Paperback
The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, by Economist Pietra Rivoli, is my second "where do t-shirts come from and how do they fit in the global economy" book. The first was a much slimmer publication, T-Shirt: One small item, one giant impact (also reviewed). This book certainly goes into greater detail, particularly regarding the economic and societal forces affecting the production of cotton, the history of mechanization in production and processing cotton, the affect of the fabric industry on workers and the work environment, and the "last stage" of a T-shirts life in the US, as extraordinary numbers of cast-off clothes are shipped to entrepreneurs in Africa to resell as serviceable clothing, then finally recycled as rags or as raw material to make, once again, into T-shirts.

Here are some of the interesting snippets from this book:

"It takes a little over a third of a pound of cotton lint to produce a T-shirt, maybe 15 cents' worth, so an acre of West texas farmland can produce about 1,200 T-shirts each year" (p. 62).

"Globalization's critics continue to charge that the price of cheap T-shirts is high indeed. Sweatshops spawned by global capitalism exploit the poor and the powerless, forcing people without alternatives to work in prison-like conditions for pennies a day. The factory villages also destroy traditional family structures and cultures, and weaken indigenous agriculture. In short, the critics claim, the cheap T-shirts from China are a victory for US consumers and for corporate profits, but a failure for humanity" (p. 72). However, Rivoli demonstrates that the truth is more complicated.
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