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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars from lifestyle, to systems, June 4, 2001
This review is from: The Wheels of Commerce (Civilization and Capitalism: 15Th-18th Century -Volume 2) (Paperback)
Historians, they say, are either lumpers or splitters: the former seek to make generalizations while the latter seek to refute and refine them. Braudel strikes a balance between these approaches, at one time examining the economic point of view (and related theoretical controversies, such as the ideas of Schumpeter on innovation), while searching for historical examples that support or obliterate them. He is a true master scholar.
This volume adds to the first, moving from living standards to the establishment and functioning of trading and banking systems, both by capitalists (holders of sufficient resources to manipulate markets) and the merchants and craftsmen who operated within these markets. It is a crucial distinction that demonstrates how simple-minded the ideological argument of "free markets" can be: the rich can and do design economic systems to function to their advantage. You follow the development of international trading networks by Italians, Jews and Armenians; the evolution of banking and the handling of paper money; and even the influence of social hierarchies on economic growth.
While Braudel concentrates almost exclusively on Europe in this volume, which lessens the universality of his approach, it is utterly fascinating from page one. The economic systems he analyses were somewhat incomplete, though evolving rapidly. An additional limit to his approach is the exclusive focus on econimic life. At times, he views the building of chateaux and the commission of great works of art from the Reanassance to the 19C as a reflection of the lack of wealth-generating investment opportunities during a time of economic revolution!
And that is just a few of the issues covered. Each section of the book is like an essay on some basic economic notion. As such, the book assumes a great deal of historical knowledge in the reader, though Braudel often explains what he refers to briefly. For me, this added to its appeal and density, but it is often hard going. However, the book is leavened by wonderful and fascinating illustrations, which eases the task of getting through it at times.
Highly recommended.
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