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The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism

The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism

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by Joyce Appleby

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"Splendid: the global history of capitalism in all its creative—and destructive—glory." —The New York Times Book Review

With its deep roots and global scope, the capitalist system seems universal and timeless. The framework for our lives, it is a source of constant change, sometimes measured and predictable, sometimes drastic, out of


"Splendid: the global history of capitalism in all its creative—and destructive—glory." —The New York Times Book Review

With its deep roots and global scope, the capitalist system seems universal and timeless. The framework for our lives, it is a source of constant change, sometimes measured and predictable, sometimes drastic, out of control. Yet what is now ubiquitous was not always so. Capitalism was an unlikely development when it emerged from isolated changes in farming, trade, and manufacturing in early-modern England. Astute observers began to notice these changes and register their effects. Those in power began to harness these new practices to the state, enhancing both. A system generating wealth, power, and new ideas arose to reshape societies in a constant surge of change.

Approaching capitalism as a culture, as a historical development that was by no means natural or inevitable, Joyce Appleby gives us a fascinating introduction to this most potent creation of mankind from its origins to its present global reach.

Editorial Reviews

Stephen Mihm
…[Joseph Schumpeter's] ghost looms large over Joyce Appleby's splendid new account of the "relentless revolution" unleashed by capitalism from the 16th century onward. Appleby, a distinguished historian who has dedicated her career to studying the origins of capitalism in the Anglo-American world, here broadens her scope to take in the global history of capitalism in all its creative—and destructive—glory.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Arguing that capitalism is a cultural—rather than purely economic—phenomenon, Appleby (Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination) traces its trajectory through European, American, and Asian successes and setbacks, its unhappy experiments in colonization, the world wars, and into contemporary India and China. She narrates the rise of capitalism as a process of accretion, starting with Dutch agricultural innovations that were adopted and improved upon by the British. This set England on the path to controlling famine and, ultimately, freed capital and labor for trade. Appleby turns Marxism on its head as she proposes that the new social relations introduced in England as a result of converting common land into freeholds were the “consequence, not the cause, of the transformation in English farming.” If this sounds like breathless global time travel, it is still a laudable effort at demonstrating that there was nothing “inevitable” about the rise of capitalism. Both scholarly and accessible, this book unpacks a complex web of seemingly unrelated events; its dazzling achievements are tarnished only by multiple misnomers: there is no city called “Calico” in India (there's a Calicut) and no language called “Hindu” (it's Hindi). (Jan.)
Library Journal
For those of us inhabiting the globe today, it may be difficult to imagine a world without capitalism. In a profound and insightful analysis of the economic system, esteemed historian Appleby (emerita, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans) traces the genesis of the "puzzle of capitalism" back to 16th-century England in an effort to explain the development of capitalism and remove the fallacy that its triumph was inevitable. Favoring the cultural model of capitalism set forth by Max Weber over those of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, Appleby argues that by combining Dutch innovations such as banks and joint stock companies, new areas of trade, and a revolution in agriculture, the English broke through cultural barriers, transcended a world of scarcity, and introduced a new cultural system that has since revolutionized society. VERDICT Appleby's engaging narrative spans from capitalism's humble origins through industrialization, world war, depression, and into the present era of global recession, government bailouts, and the world markets. More comprehensive than Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money, this sound, timely study will surely find a receptive audience with both academics and those concerned with the state of the modern financial world.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews
For the general reader, a survey of the origins and growth of capitalism. As the most tumultuous economic year in decades winds down, those predicting-or hoping for-capitalism's demise would do well to consult eminent historian Appleby (A Restless Past: History and the American Public, 2005, etc.). As her readable, almost conversational history demonstrates, capitalism, throughout nearly 400 years, has shown a remarkable resilience and capacity for constant adaptation and reinvention. However, writes the author, there was nothing destined or inevitable about its emergence. Adam Smith notwithstanding, there exists no natural human disposition to produce, sell or buy. Rather, capitalism was a historical development arising because of unprecedented convergence in 17th-century England of agricultural improvements, global exploration and scientific discoveries. These advances enabled entrepreneurs to throw off centuries of custom and to transform society in ways that favored the imperatives and strategies of private investment and later empowered them to shape political and social institutions to their demands. Appleby sustains this emphasis on capitalism as a cultural, not merely economic system, charting the imitations of "the English miracle," first in the Netherlands and then in Germany and America. By the end of the 19th century, she writes, capitalism had demonstrated its capacity to assure unparalleled abundance, but also revealed its wastefulness, rapaciousness and heedlessness about long-term consequences for people and the environment. As the narrative turns to the 20th century, Appleby rushes to cover the effects and implications of two world wars, the Great Depression, the labormovement, scientific management, the technological revolution and the expansion of capitalism in a variety of diverse social contexts, including most recently in India and China. Whether masterfully discussing the significance of agricultural progress that made capitalism possible, or touching lightly on the impact of Amazon and e-mail, Appleby offers consistently illuminating commentary. A useful introduction to a vast, complex topic.
The New Yorker
“Stimulating history.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Joyce Appleby (1929—2016) was a professor of history emerita at UCLA and the author of The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism and coauthor of Telling the Truth about History, among many other works. A former president of the American History Association, she was awarded the 2009 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Prize for distinguished writing in American history from the Society of American Historians.

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