Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Science/Technology | Tags: American Dynamism, An Empire of Wealth, Grand-scale Economic History
Here’s the book to refute every notion of Obama’s Class Warfare theme — the true history of how America came to be a great power, and why: John Steele Gordon’s An Empire of Wealth:The Epic History of American Economic Power. As the blurb from Ron Chernow says; “In this grand scale synthesis charting the evolution of American enterprise, he manages to please, educate, and enlighten us on every page.” I recommend it highly, and can hardly put it down.
Two of the most significant technological developments in human history had brought the European medieval world to an end by the beginning of the sixteenth century and made the settlement of the New World possible. The printing press had greatly reduced the cost of books, and thus of knowledge. In the mid-fifteenth century there had been only about fifty thousand books in all of Europe, m ost of them controlled by the Church, which ran the universities. By the end of the century there were more than ten million books in Europe, on an endless variety of subjects, many of them technical and agricultural. They were largely in the hands of the burgeoning merchant class and the landed aristocracy. The Church’s monopoly of knowledge was broken and, soon, so was its monopoly or religion, as the Protestant Reformation swept over much of northern Europe in the early sixteenth century, setting off more than a century of warfare as a result.
The other great invention of the late Middle Ages was the full-rigged ship, capable of making long ocean passages. As late as 1400, European ships were mostly small and single-masted, not very different from those that had been used by William the Conqueror almost four hundred years earlier to cross the channel to England. But by 1450, far larger ships with three and sometimes four masts had appeared, and they were pushing out the boundaries of the world known to Europeans.
They had need to. In 1453 the Turks had taken Constantinople, the ancient capital of the eastern Roman empire. A Muslim power now sat athwart the trade routes to the East,m extracting taxes on all goods that passed. More, the Turks were expanding into Europe itself, and by the middle of the sixteenth century would be at the very gates of Vienna. Christendom felt itself under attack as it had not since the Dark Ages a thousand years earlier.
And the full-rigged ship meant the Europeans could reach India and the Spice Islands, then Columbus, the New World, and eventually — us. Mr Gordon traces the spreading effects of new technologies and how new economics — like the invention of double-entry bookkeeping and the joint-stock company — changed the world of commerce, which in turn initiated other changes.
The book is fascinating and exciting and flows into the history of how America’s power and dynamism came to be. This is a wonderful time to be reading this book, published in 2004 before the notion of “fundamentally transforming America” was inflicted on an unsuspecting country.