What is a ‘Companion’ for?
The Japanese Consumer claims to be an alternative economic history of modern Japan. I don’t think it is. It is an account of the place of consumption in the everyday life of the Japanese population, drawn largely from a rich scholarship that has become available in English during the last two decades.
The Ottoman Empire, over the course of its existence, evolved a cultural synthesis of strands coming from its Arab, Persian and Byzantine antecedents, as well as the folk culture of its constituent populations. Culinary traditions were part of this legacy, and the taste for sweets an ever popular and refined element, constituting a repertoire extending into modern Turkey and the Middle East.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.
What a great idea! The only wonder is why no publishing house thought of commissioning a book on the topic before. The reader’s delight starts straight from looking at the cover illustration – a ‘translation’ of Harry Beck’s celebrated London Tube Map, in which Waterloo Station becomes Gare de Napoléon.
The cotton industry is fundamental to the development of global capitalism and broadly shaped the world we live in today. It is therefore important to realise the extent to which this depended on the militarisation of trade, massive land expropriation, genocide and slavery.
Addressing how modern nations have found themselves, as President George W. Bush saw it, ‘stuck with these miserable choices’ when it comes to resolving financial crises, is at the centre of Larry Neal’s concise history of international finance.
How does one define empire? What are the characteristics of a successful empire? These two questions arise foremost after reading John Darwin’s monumental masterpiece After Tamerlane. In nine succinct chapters with informative titles, Darwin encompassed 600 years of global history, supported by illustrations and maps and for those interested, suggestions for further reading.
This book was commissioned by the Bank of England, when Mervyn (now Lord) King was Governor. The aim was to produce a popular history of the Bank, an institution important in Britain since its inception. If it was intended to be a popular volume, the kind that flies off the shelves in bookshops, I hope that I’m right when I say it will not.
It is an ambitious book that would try to cover the Conquest of Mexico, the rise and fall of the country’s hacienda system, the emergence of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the intricacies of Emiliano Zapata’s role in the Mexican Revolution, and the exodus of women from rural regions in the mid-1960s to look for work as ‘household help’ in the nation’s fast-growing capital city.