Empire of Cotton

  • by Sven Beckert
  • Narrated by Jim Frangione
  • 20 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Sven Beckert's rich, fascinating audiobook tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world's most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. Here is the story of how, beginning well before the advent of machine production in the 1780s, these men captured ancient trades and skills in Asia, combined them with the expropriation of lands in the Americas and the enslavement of African workers to crucially recast the disparate realms of cotton that had existed for millennia. We see how industrial capitalism then reshaped these worlds of cotton into an empire, and how this empire transformed the world. The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, farmers and merchants, workers and factory owners. In this as in so many other ways, Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A New History of Global Capitalism

What made the experience of listening to Empire of Cotton the most enjoyable?

A compelling socioeconomic history of the "white gold" -- a commodity so familiar that we take it for granted. The thrust of the author's thesis is that cotton is central to any discussion of the rise of capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and global markets from the 1700s, not peripheral to it like some people would like to believe. The UK subtitle "A New History of Global Capitalism" better captures the book's real subject. The emphasis is on the period of the mid-1700s to mid-1800s when cotton growing and manufacturing were at their peak in the UK and the USA, though India, China, and other countries factor into the discussion. There is far less emphasis on cotton in the 20th-21st Century.

A highly detailed, mature history of one of humanity's most essential commodities, and the greed, brutality, and ingenuity that human beings have applied to its cultivation, manufacture, and sale.


What does Jim Frangione bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The reading was very strong. Considering the large number of non-English names, societies, and companies cited throughout the book, learning the correct pronunciation for everything must have taken considerable time and effort on the reader's part.


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- Lucian of Samosata "N/A"

Slanted Repetition

I have achieved audible Master level and have listened to countless books on history and economics. This was one of the most
repetitive, one-sided books I have listened to. The entire book can be summed up as the authors view that cotton capitalists only survived because of global state handouts. The listen consisted of after droning hour of the same points. Instead of using the history of the cotton industry to help explain why and how the industry operates today, the author went into excruciating, monotonous detail of various eras and geographies of cotton economics and then haphazardly tried to tie the history to the modern cotton industry in the epilogue.

Very disappointing book. Am shocked this book is consistently on best seller lists.
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- Patrick

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-02-2014
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books