AMERICA'S BUSINESS by James Oliver Robertson


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A short course on the history of American business from the beginnings of European colonization to the present-day consumer society--just right for college freshmen without much background, but too glib and credulous for anyone with an appetite for serious thinking on the subject. Robertson (History, Univ. of Connecticut), author of American Myth, American Reality (1980), dutifully slogs his way around all the bases: colonial merchants and land speculators, Revolutionary finance, the China Trade, the development of corporations, internal improvements, industrialization, the rise of big business, corporate lawyers, Madison Avenue, supermarkets, multinationals, and so forth--pausing every so often for the telling anecdote or thumbnail sketch (John Jacob Astor, Samuel Colt, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, An Wang). His theme--the familiar old refrain of 19th-century reformers, 20th-century Progressives, the Small Business Administration, and Nader's Raiders--is that ""big business,"" no matter what the corporate publicity flaks say, has destroyed the American tradition of independent, democratic, socially-responsible entrepreneurship. The trouble is that Robertson skips quickly past those parts of the story that suggest deep and abiding opposition to ""business"" values throughout American history--in Puritan New England, for example (where the subject is extremely complex, as Christine Heyrman has recently reminded us), in the antebellum South, or in the labor movement, which gets far too little attention. (Another problem is the stark dichotomy.) Serviceable but undistinguished.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux