An absorbing tale of unfettered commerce.

A vivid popular history of the great commercial monopolies that helped shape the modern world.

For three centuries, beginning in the early 1600s, European powers granted monopoly trading rights to joint-stock corporations, such as the Dutch East India Company, as a way to bankroll colonial expansion. Bown (Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver, 2009, etc.) relates the rousing story of a half-dozen of these companies and the “larger-than-life merchant-adventurers” who led them. Beginning as traders, these leaders, many with their own armies, were not subject to the laws of their home nations or of local governments. With authority to pass laws, collect taxes and wage war with foreign princes, they did as they pleased, “with free rein to indulge their impulses, impose dictatorial power and plunder rapaciously. They were competitive and ruthless, often battling companies from other European nations to gain trading footholds. Most readers will be familiar with Peter Stuyvesant (Dutch West India Company), the stern, one-legged ruler of New Amsterdam; and the arrogant, racist Cecil Rhodes (British South Africa Company), who made his fortune operating in Rhodesia for England. But Bown portrays others as well, including strongman Jan Pieterszoon Coen (Dutch East India Company), who had 150 merchant ships and 40 warships, controlled the global spice supply and believed that violent force alone ensured profitability; Robert Clive (English East India Company), who carefully cultivated his heroic image after military victories in India; Aleksandr Andreyevich Baranov (Russian American Company), whose aggressive 28-year rule over Russian Alaska delivered profits from sea otter furs to investors in St. Petersburg; and the “sexist, racist, domineering braggart” George Simpson (Hudson’s Bay Company), who traveled in a canoe, wearing a top hat, as he built an empire of beaver furs that helped give rise to Canada. Hardly a pleasant group, these manipulative leaders’ companies grew so large and indispensable to their home nations that they sometimes required government bailouts.

An absorbing tale of unfettered commerce.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-61611-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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