Martin Vander Weyer

From Barter to Barclays

More: The 10,000-Year Rise of the World Economy


The Economist/Profile 466pp £25 order from our bookshop

Why bother trying to summarise the whole economic history of the world, from the earliest commerce in ancient Mesopotamia to Donald Trump’s trade wars, in a single middleweight volume? The point, I suppose, is to establish, taking the longest possible perspective, what works and what doesn’t: which natural advantages, inventions, political structures and events have nudged nations towards prosperity, which have impoverished them and which mistakes we should strive never to make again.

Philip Coggan, a former Financial Times journalist, has had a pretty good go at this herculean task, producing an accessible book that’s packed with amazing facts, a veritable compendium of answers to questions you might find in an advanced pub quiz for social historians and anthropologists. To pick a random example, who knew that ‘as early as 1700, 13% of [British] domestic servants owned a watch’ but that by the end of the 18th century, ‘40% of those deemed paupers owned either a watch or a clock’?

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