An impressively comprehensive but decidedly tedious survey of the evolution of multinational enterprise in three Western nations. Building on and borrowing from his 1977 work, The Visible Hand (which won him a Pulitzer Prize in History), Chandler traces dominant patterns of commercial growth in the US, Great Britain, and Germany--the trio of countries that accounted for roughly two thirds of global output prior to the Great Depression. As a data base, he relies on the top 200 industrial concerns in each nation at three points in time: during WW I; at the end of the prosperous 1920's; and at the outset of the post-WW II era. The narrative, however, is rooted in the final quarter of the 19th century, when, the author argues, major firms got their start by gaining economies of scale and scope. They did so, he shows, by making certain types of investments, i.e., in production facilities large enough to confer cost advantages, in foreign as well as domestic distribution/marketing networks, and in professional management capable of administering world-class organizations. Companies that first seized the initiative and made the requisite financial and resources commitments, Chandler demonstrates, dominated their fields for decades. In addition to stealing a march on rivals, the early birds were able to diversify into new and allied outlets. As the author makes clear, though, there were distinct differences in the ways executives got down to business. By his account, Americans engaged in a cutthroat sort of managerial capitalism; vaguely paternal founding-family control was more the norm in the UK, while Germans preferred the security of cooperation and cartels to the rigors of competition. Chandler reaches tentative conclusions as to the trade-offs involved in these variant approaches, supporting his judgments with case studies of, inter alia, Bayer, Borden, Courtaulds, DuPont, GE, Goodyear, Levar, and Siemens. An estimable contribution to socioeconomic history from a perceptive analyst, but the numbingly detailed text (which is crammed with tabular material) will prove daunting for general-interest readers.
Pub Date: April 1, 1990
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1990
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