Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600–1900

Stephen R. Bown, St. Martin's/Dunne, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-61611-3
Bown (A Most Damnable Invention) has produced a magnificent description of the six great companies, and their leaders, that dominated the "Heroic Age of Commerce." Bown demonstrates how the corporations served as stalking horses for kings and parliaments while enriching shareholders and the powerful managers themselves. Jan Pieterszoon Coen of the Dutch East India Company was particularly noteworthy for cruel tyranny in what is now Indonesia. The English East India Company's Robert Clive, through genius and perseverance, rose to a position of near-absolute power in India. Aleksander Baranov of the Russian American Company, known as the "Lord of Alaska," was bound by ties of decency and responsibility to the company's men, but also had a deep strain of brutality. Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company and of De Beers, the South African diamond monopoly, was dedicated both to the British Empire and to the success of his various enterprises. Bown presents a fascinating look at the men who exploited resources and native peoples while laying the foundations of empires. "Neither heroes nor angels," Bown says, their global impact was as great as that of any king. Illus.; maps. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/25/2010
Release date: 12/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-2735-2
Hardcover - 272 pages - 978-1-84486-114-9
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