A Splendid Exchange

  • by William J. Bernstein
  • Narrated by Mel Foster
  • 17 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 transports listeners from ancient sailing ships that brought the silk trade from China to Rome in the second century to the rise and fall of the Portuguese monopoly in spices in the 16th; from the rush for sugar that brought the British to Jamaica in 1655 to the American trade battles of the early 20th 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 examines 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. Although the impulse to trade often takes a backseat to xenophobia and war, Bernstein concludes that trade 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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What the Critics Say

"The book is not just essential reading; it is fun all the way." (Peter L. Bernstein, author of Against the Gods)
"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')

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Very interesting and Germane to Today's World

This book provides exactly what it says it does - a history of world trade from ancient to modern times. It's well written and provides a great backdrop to today's arguments over globalization. No doubt it will help you out around the water cooler. I found it very interesting to hear how the same trade issues we're dealing with today have been around for quite a long time. I also thought it was interesting that protectionism is beneficial (overall) in some circumstances (particularly, for the U.S. in the early 1800's) but not others. He explains who wins and who loses from free trade in a very clear and convincing manner. It's nice to see a little of the complexity, beyond the usual political rhetoric, surrounding these loaded issues.

The narration is good, but I recommend the audio version with a couple of caveats. First, unless you're an expert in ancient geography, I recommend that you get the book version also so you can see the maps or else look up a bunch of the names on Wikipedia. Otherwise you'll have no picture of the trade routes he's talking about. Second, it's better if you can take it in larger chunks so you don't lose track of what's going on (he goes on diversions from the main point occasionally that can be hard to track if you're listening in dribs and drabs). Overall, great book.
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- Mark

Splendid

Wonderful, sweeping economic history of the world by one of my favorite writers (Bernstein also wrote "The Birth of Plenty"). These "big" history and "big" thought books are a great antidote to the short time frames and disposable knowledge of our blogging and information overload world. Helps to have a long-term framework to understand our own material lives. Excellent counterpart to Friedman's The World is Flat.
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- Joshua Kim "mostly nonfiction listener"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-09-2008
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio