Considering the astounding impact companies have had on every corner of civilization, it's amazing that the development of the institution has been largely unexamined. Economist editors Micklethwait and Wooldridge present a compact and timely book that deftly sketches the history of the company. They trace its progress from Assyrian partnership agreements through the 16th- and 17th-century European "charter companies" that opened trade with distant parts of the world, to today's multinationals. The authors' breadth of knowledge is impressive. They infuse their engaging prose with a wide range of cultural, historical and literary references, with quotes from poets to presidents. Micklethwait and Wooldrige point out that the enormous power wielded by the company is nothing new. Companies were behind the slave trade, opium and imperialism, and the British East India Company ruled the subcontinent with its standing army of native troops, outmanning the British army two to one. By comparison, the modern company is a bastion of restraint and morality. In a short, final chapter on the company's future, the authors argue against the fear, in antiglobalization circles, that "a handful of giant companies are engaged in a `silent takeover' of the world." Indeed, trends point toward large organizations breaking into smaller units. Moreover, the authors argue that for all the change companies have engendered over time, their force has been for an aggregate good. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (On sale Mar. 4) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
We take the company for granted; it is how businesses are typically organized. In this engaging and well-written short book, the authors, both correspondents for The Economist, demonstrate that although there are some older antecedents, the modern company dates from the mid-nineteenth-century United Kingdom and United States. The modern company has two key characteristics: a separate, indefinite legal existence and owner liability limited to the capital advanced to the company. The former permits the company to make contracts for buying and selling and to outlive its founders, while the latter allows it to raise capital in abundance. The modern company has proven to be a remarkably productive form of social organization and it has adapted very well to a wide variety of conditions. But as the authors remind us, it is not truly independent, remaining a creature of the political system to which it is ultimately responsible.
Economist editors Micklethwait and Wooldridge (coauthors, A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Promise of Globalization) present a concise yet sweeping history of the limited-liability joint-stock company-"the world's most powerful institution"-and the swath it has cut through economic history. Beginning with Sumerian families who traded along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, this intriguing story continues to the growth of chartered companies in the 16th and 17th centuries; the slave trade and early industrialization; the rise of big business in America in the early 20th century; business conglomerates in Britain, Germany, and Japan from 1850 to 1950; post-World War I managerial capitalism and the company man; and the greed of the 1980s, all the way to the present-day dot-com bust and accounting scandals. The authors close with a succinct history of the multinational and provide a cautionary projection of what may lie ahead for the company. This handy history nicely supplements the larger works of Alfred Chandler (e.g., Strategy and Structure) and exemplifies the grand tradition of Fernand Braudel's magisterial "Civilization and Capitalism" series. Essential for academic libraries supporting business and organizational dynamics curriculum and recommended for public libraries as well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/02.]-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Is the corporation a soulless and soul-killing construct, an instrument of unmitigated evil, as Genoese streetfighters and latter-day Naderites are wont to argue? Not necessarilyand not even usuallywrite two Economist reporters. Whoever came up with itand several nations and times can lay claim to itthe company is a brilliant idea. From the outset, the creation of a business entity that had some of the rights, and some of the traits, of an individual person allowed cash-strapped governments to secure the wherewithal for projects ranging from securing shipping lanes to conquering half the world, and it allowed single investors to form blocs and gain wealth unattainable to anyone without a cannon. Some of the earliest companies, write Micklethwait and Coolidge, were quasi-governments in themselves. The British East India Company, for instance, commanded a private army a quarter of a million soldiers strong, far larger than the British army. The Virginia Company transported goods to and from the American colonies while encouraging democratic ideas that helped get the king’s hand out of the tillfor which reason James I called the firm "a seminary for a seditious parliament." Fueled by a logic that the economist Ronald Coase identified as the desire to minimize the transaction costs involved in coordinating a particular economic activityget everyone under one roof, and coordination is a breezesuch companies grew and diversified, yet did not become giants until the late-19th and early-20th centuries, when master planners such as James Buchanan Duke, the tobacco giant; Thomas Watson, the paternalistic founder of IBM; and the good folks at Procter &Gamble pulled together to corporatize all aspects of societyin the case of the last, the authors wryly remark, also "ruining modern culture by creating the soap opera." Yet, they argue, despite widespread fears to the contrary, big corporations are steadily losing their power, while small onesand there are more than 5.5 million in the US aloneare becoming the norm, allowing for healthy diversity and even doing some good. An entertaining and even charming excursion in business history, largely unburdened by formulas and numbers but full of debate-stirring data all the same. Agent: Andrew Wylie
Praise for The Company by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
“Remarkable . . . True believers in the free market faith and heretics alike will profit from knowing this history.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“A swashbuckling journey through the past and into the future of the modern company.”
–Los Angeles Times
The authors take up [the corporation’s] tale with brio and wit . . . . Worthwhile for almost anyone with an interest in the subject.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“The limited-liability joint-stock company is a very marvel of the modern world economy, a historical force to rival religions, monarchies, and even states. The Company tells the colorful story of its birth and maturation—and its pervasive social and cultural consequences—with rare concision and flair.”
—David M. Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear and professor of history at Stanford University
“A fascinating and delightful investigation both of how the guilds and ‘corporate persons’ of the Middle Ages turned into the institution from which so many people today directly and indirectly earn their daily bread and of the issues facing the company in the twenty-first century.”
—Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize and coauthor of The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy