Merchant Kings by Stephen R. Bown
When Companies Ruled the World, 1600--1900

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Synopsis

Commerce meets conquest in this swashbuckling story of the six merchant-adventurers who built the modern world

It was an era when monopoly trading companies were the unofficial agents of European expansion, controlling vast numbers of people and huge tracts of land, and taking on governmental and military functions. They managed their territories as business interests, treating their subjects as employees, customers, or competitors. The leaders of these trading enterprises exercised virtually unaccountable, dictatorial political power over millions of people.

The merchant kings of the Age of Heroic Commerce were a rogue's gallery of larger-than-life men who, for a couple hundred years, expanded their far-flung commercial enterprises over a sizable portion of the world. They include Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the violent and autocratic pioneer of the Dutch East India Company; Peter Stuyvesant, the one-legged governor of the Dutch West India Company, whose narrow-minded approach lost Manhattan to the British; Robert Clive, who rose from company clerk to become head of the British East India Company and one of the wealthiest men in Britain; Alexandr Baranov of the Russian American Company; Cecil Rhodes, founder of De Beers and Rhodesia; and George Simpson, the "Little Emperor" of the Hudson's Bay Company, who was chauffeured about his vast fur domain in a giant canoe, exhorting his voyageurs to paddle harder so he could set speed records.
Merchant Kings looks at the rise and fall of company rule in the centuries before colonialism, when nations belatedly assumed responsibility for their commercial enterprises. A blend of biography, corporate history, and colonial history, this book offers a panoramic, new perspective on the enormous cultural, political, and social legacies, good and bad, of this first period of unfettered globalization.

 

About Stephen R. Bown

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Stephen R. Bown was born in Ottawa, Canada, and graduated in history from the University of Alberta. He has a special interest in the history of science and exploration. His previous books are The Naturalists: Scientific Travelers in the Golden Age of National History and Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail. He lives in the Canadian Rockies with his wife and two young children.
 
Published December 7, 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books. 336 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, History, War, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Merchant Kings

Kirkus Reviews

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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.

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The New York Times

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Tell the stories of the great old multinational trading companies — you know, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Dutch East India Company, et al.

Dec 18 2010 | Read Full Review of Merchant Kings: When Companie...

The Wall Street Journal

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The original intent was to organize trade, but the temptation toward direct conquest and rule often raised the "animal spirits" of the trading companies.

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The Wall Street Journal

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The original intent was to organize trade, but the temptation toward direct conquest and rule often raised the "animal spirits" of the trading companies.

Dec 09 2010 | Read Full Review of Merchant Kings: When Companie...

New York Journal of Books

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The company then sends them off in ferries to fend for themselves in New Jersey, and then razes their apartment buildings and lofts to make way for the new assembly lines.

Dec 07 2010 | Read Full Review of Merchant Kings: When Companie...

The Washington Times

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Bown has crafted a masterful read in his study of the six major companies: The Dutch East India Company, the Dutch West India Company, the English East India Company, the Russian American Company, the Hudson's Bay Company and the British South Africa Company.

Mar 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Merchant Kings: When Companie...

Bookmarks Magazine

and George Simpson, the “Little Emperor” of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who was chauffeured about his vast fur domain in a giant canoe, exhorting his voyageurs to paddle harder so he could set speed records.Merchant Kings looks at the rise and fall of company rule in the centuries before...

Dec 13 2010 | Read Full Review of Merchant Kings: When Companie...

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