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The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471648499
ISBN-10: 0471648493
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During a 1999 protest of the World Trade Organization, Rivoli, an economics professor at Georgetown, looked on as an activist seized the microphone and demanded, "Who made your T-shirt?" Rivoli determined to find out. She interviewed cotton farmers in Texas, factory workers in China, labor champions in the American South and used-clothing vendors in Tanzania. Problems, Rivoli concludes, arise not with the market, but with the suppression of the market. Subsidized farmers, and manufacturers and importers with tax breaks, she argues, succeed because they avoid the risks and competition of unprotected global trade, which in turn forces poorer countries to lower their prices to below subsistence levels in order to compete. Rivoli seems surprised by her own conclusions, and while some chapters lapse into academic prose and tedious descriptions of bureaucratic maneuvering, her writing is at its best when it considers the social dimensions of a global economy, as in chapters on the social networks of African used-clothing entrepreneurs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"It brings history and economics in an enjoyable way..." (Financial Times, 21st September 2005)

“…a fine account of how the countervailing forces of the market and protectionism conflict in combining in a single product…” (Financial Times, 30 July 2005)

"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? In The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, Georgetown University business professor Pietra 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.
Along the way, we see how entrepreneurial U.S. farmers team with government-sponsored researchers--and take advantage of subsidies and trade barriers--to dominate world cotton production. Migrant workers from Chinese family farms tell why they regard low-wage jobs in Shanghai sewing factories as golden opportunities. And only in that African used-clothing bazaar do we encounter a truly free market where entrepreneurs--perhaps including some future tycoons of the 21st century--utterly rely on pure business skills and instinct. Whether you feel hurt or helped by globalization, you'll certainly understand it better after reading this fascinating account." (Entrepreneur Magazine, May 2005

"...full of memorable characters and vivid scenes..." [and that] "Rivoli excels at making connections." (Time Magazine, March 28, 2005)

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

"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)

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

"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)

“…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)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471648493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471648499
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Spurred by a Georgetown student anti-sweatshop protest, Pietra Rivoli took up the task of tracing the life of a (tacky souvenir) t-shirt she buys in Florida, to examine the economics and politics of this non-trivial segment of the apparel industry. Why she buys the t-shirt in the first place remains a mystery. Why she needs one from Florida that she will likely discard is even more of a mystery. She made me think about studying the American practice of souvenir shopping and excess consumption. But her t-shirt has a story worth telling.

Rivoli first adeptly traces the history of cotton as a critical world commodity, including the struggles in England two hundred fifty years ago by the wool industry to combat the comfort of cotton, going so far as to prohibit the use of calico and the requirement that people be buried in wool. The questionable economics of slavery moved cotton production to the United States, but it was and still is the intervention of technology, research and financial capital that made cotton farming so much more productive today. Nonetheless, the ability of Texas farmers to market "low quality" cotton can best be attributed to both technology and federal price supports, up to 19 cents on a 59 cent pound of cotton. Cotton, while still a major commodity in global trade, has probably declined in relative value and share of the world economy. What we may be seeing is more of the slow death of the importance a dated commodity and less of a "race to the bottom" that she suggests.

She then takes us to t-shirt and apparel manufacturing and employment, now on the wane in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. People mistakenly think that these jobs are being sent to China. They're not. In fact, they're just disappearing.
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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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Format: Paperback
At the beginning of the book, Pietra Rivoli sets out to find an answer to the anti-globalization cries of the activists, to build a case to convince them of the power of the markets in improving the life of the poor. Instead, we discover an intricate web of interrelationships of politics, economics and culture; we realize that the trade skeptics need the corporations, the corporations need the skeptics, but most importantly the sweatshop workers need them both.

This book really stands out in its scope and conclusions. All too often we are exposed to one-sided attacks on or treatises for globalization - this book offers a comprehensive look at both sides, and more importantly it recognizes the importance of both. Amartya Sen (Nobel prize winner) proposed and supported many of the same ideas before, but this book articulates them exceptionally well and offers plenty of real, historical examples to seal the case.

I read this book for a class, but it's a kind of book I would have no hesitation reading on my free time either - it's a solid investment of your time and a real eye opener.
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Format: Hardcover
All of us have an opinion on globalization. We either fall into the protectionist or free trade camp or perhaps somewhere between but few of us have a clear concept of the mechanics of globalization. Alan Tonselson’s book “The Race to the Bottom” tried explaining it using wry statistical economic analysis but Rivoli breathes life into globalization by fleshing out the people involved in the life cycle of an ordinary T-shirt. Her book illustrates this phenomenon to the layperson by demonstrating that globalization is more about history and, more importantly, politics, than about economics.

Her detailed discussion of textile trade politics leaves me to marvel at the fact that I am in fact wearing a T-shirt at all! Teleologically all political activity is aimed at material gain, hence, we are back to economics or as she so aptly demonstrates that politics gets in the way of economics.

Travels of a T-Shirt is an engrossing, informative, enlightening, and exciting book. The most salient feature is her historical discussion of cotton production and the textile industry. If you thought that globalization is a 21st century phenomena think again. Globalization is as old as the human race. Only its magnitude is unique to our century.

Readers will discover that the issues of globalization are not black and white but rather infinite shades of grey. I urge everyone to read this book for I guarantee that they will walk away with a whole new perspective.
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