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A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 11, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 11, 2008
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Editorial Reviews


"Entertaining and greatly enlightening . . . Mr. Bernstein is a fine writer and knows how to tell a great story well . . . A Splendid Exchange is a splendid book." -- John Steele Gordon, The New York Times

"Excellent . . . Bernstein is equally at home plumbing the romantic dawn of trade or untwisting the mind-wracking complexity of modern international commerce." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Superb . . . [A] significant contribution . . . A Splendid Exchange is a work of which Adam Smith and Max Weber would have approved." -- Paul Kennedy, Foreign Affairs

"Timely and informative . . . Fascinating and surprisingly exciting . . . A saga of epic proportions." -- Booklist

From the Inside Flap

"A Splendid Exchange is really much more than a history of trade. In William Bernstein's deft treatment, it becomes pretty much a history of the world. The age-old urge to profit by buying low and selling high led to empires, wars, trade restrictions, and--more recently--violent protests against economic and financial globalization. Bernstein's vast knowledge of trade's past is great preparation for dealing effectively with today's controversies about its future."
--Richard Sylla, Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets, and Professor of Economics, NYU Stern School of Business

"In A Splendid Exchange, Bill Bernstein has further burnished his credentials as both an economic historian and a felicitous writer. He has given us an eye-opening, brilliantly researched, anecdote-laced, and exciting-to-read history of global trade. Readers of this compelling saga will be intellectually rewarded, enticed, and amused--and more sensitively attuned to the challenges of today's version of the globalization that has driven so much of civilization's economic growth and social progress."
--John C. Bogle, founder, the Vanguard Group

"A Splendid Exchange is filled with adroit observations on the evolution of trade from the ancient world to today. Bernstein draws upon a vast historical context to show how trade's development is part of society's natural progression toward prosperity, and he makes a convincing case that trade and trade policy have been the catalyst for the development of ambitious nations. He correctly asserts that we must be aware of how it has shaped the past because it will continue to have a pivotal role--for better and for worse--as we move into the future. Politicians take heed!"
--Arthur Laffer, founder and chairman, Laffer Associates

"Bernstein illuminates modern debates in a sweeping history of international trade, weaving skillfully between rollicking adventures and scholarship. His history of trade from the ancients to the present is a story of our irrepressible urge to exchange goods, which in turn fostered exchanges of art, science, and ideas. The story of trade is the story of humankind; all in all, a happy story indeed."
--Pietra Rivoli, author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

"Think contentious debate over globalization is something new? Think again. With a staggering understanding of the role of trade in history and a storyteller's touch for illuminating its human impact, William Bernstein takes us back to the days of `ghost ships' and perilous land journeys to explain how age-old debates over trade's winners and losers shape today's bitter divisions over free trade and protectionism. Along the way, Bernstein uncovers the roots of Sino-American trade tensions and explains how century-old backlashes over free trade continue to reverberate as the world's nations become ever more connected to each other through commerce. Bernstein has given us a master's insights into the past to help us understand an issue of deep divisions in the present age."
--Sara Bongiorni, author of A Year without "Made in China"

"Bernstein's powerful book demonstrates that trade is a fascinating, pervasive, and often dominant factor in human history. But Bernstein also provides us with memorable stories about nations around the world and through the centuries. Economics, sociology, military strategy, and even health care are here, as well as a striking group of vivid personalities. The book is not just essential reading; it is fun all the way."
--Peter L. Bernstein, author of Against the Gods

"Bill Bernstein is a funny, lively storyteller who engages us with rich stories that tell how international trade and economic history have evolved together from the Stone Age on. This book is a wonderful way to learn history, geography and economics. As I read it, I felt like a kid reading about Uncle Scrooge's adventures among old civilizations in strange lands, all the while harvesting ideas for my classes."
--Ed Tower, Professor of Economics, Duke University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 494 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (April 11, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1616851902
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616851903
  • ASIN: B001O9CE9Q
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,751,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What makes a big-think book stand out is its successful combination of disparate fields of knowledge (think of Jared Diamond's combination of environmental geography AND physiology AND evolutionary biology). In A Splendid Exchange, William Bernstein's multiple areas of expertise come together to produce something extraordinary. Very few professional historians could approach his theoretical understanding of financial economics, fewer still share his practical experience of the functioning of markets, and hardly any share his knowledge of medical science. (Bernstein is a retired neurologist who holds a doctorate in chemistry, and a noted authority on financial investing who is regularly quoted by the Wall Street Journal and whose books on the topic are core reading.) Yet each of these strands of knowledge is critical to fully understanding the rise and development of trade.

To these, add another essential strand - encyclopedic knowledge of world history - and then Bernstein's ability to weave it all into an engaging tale. He knows how to clarify abstract points with apposite stories, which range from exotic historical figures to everyday kitchen items. The writing entertains while the thinking enlightens.

A Splendid Exchange illuminates more than you would expect. Consider military history: if you think of history as a chronicle of war, here you will learn just how much of that conflict resulted from trade agendas, in ancient times as well as modern. An example is the discussion of geographical "choke points"; I had never before understood how big a role they played in causing historical wars, nor had I understood the role they are likely to play in our own era.
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Format: Hardcover
I began "A Splendid Exchange" with enthusiasm. The topic is fascinating, and the writing is good if not excellent. But very soon into the book I began to feel uncomfortable with the authors periodic interjection of personal, subjective conclusions and characterizations of cultures and events. The further into the book I got, the more I was irritated by this. For example, the Portuguese are on numerous occasions characterized as cruel and evil... even as the "most brutal trading nation" of the period. However the atrocities of the conquering Mongols and Muslims are either ignored or dispassionately stated as fact (no moral judgement, in other words). It almost seems that the author has a double standard; he feels free to criticize the evils of the West, but takes a far more PC and non-judgemental view of other cultures. I do not suggest that his facts are wrong. I simply feel a historian needs to either present all the facts dispassionately (which is preferable), or else be evenhanded and consistent in his/her moral judgments.

That aside, the book did present a fairly comprehensive overview of the topic, and was relatively easy and enjoyable to read. It helped me solidify the links between different economic and geopolitical events. I would say that the authors strong suit is in economics more than history... some of his facts are inaccurate. But as a general overview it succeeds.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book when I read it in manuscript form, and I loved it even more when I read the beautiful published version, well-edited and laced with explanatory maps and lovely illustrations.

Begin with the long sweep of world trading history;add its remarkable relevance to the global issues in the headlines today; revel in the plethora of entertaining anecdotes of personalities and events, large and small; then mix with a graceful writing style that turns an educational treatise into a suspenseful page-turner. Result: a book as good as--if not better than--any other book you'll read in 2008.

John C. Bogle
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Format: Hardcover
For those who like their history on a broad canvas, this book will certainly satisfy. William Bernstein, who has written books on finance and economics, including The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created, takes a look at global trade from ancient Sumeria to the present day. He has written in the words of David Landes a "big history," taking one idea or observation and tracing through the ages.

That trade has always existed and that it is beneficial is not exactly a new idea, but in Bernstein's account he gives it a new primacy. Trade can be said to be war by other means. Countries can acquire goods and materials peacefully rather than belligerently. Bernstein emphasizes that trade has always been and always will be a great deterrent to war. If wars have loudly made history, trade has done so quietly in influencing its course.

This book can be read a resounding defense of the principle of comparative advantage in that trade always benefits all parties involved. (Granted that this principle is still debatable.) It shows how countries, regions, and individuals sought to possess goods and resources that they could not produce or acquire locally. The history of global trade is vast, but Bernstein focuses mainly on the pre-modern age, dealing more with the commodities of the pre-industrial world.

Toward the end of the book, Bernstein discusses some of the issues of global trade today. He concedes that globalization has not benefited everyone uniformly, indeed many of the workers of the industrial world have lost their jobs to offshoring. However, in the aggregate, trade has created economic growth and wealth.
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