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Book Review


Pomeranz, Kenneth and Topik, Steven. The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture, and the World Economy, 1400 to the Present, 2nd edition (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2006). 287 pp, $66.95 (cloth $22.95).

      The case studies that comprise The World that Trade Created began as articles written by Pomeranz and Topik (with several essays contributed by Julia Topik and Dennis Kortheuer) for a column entitled "Looking Back" published in the business magazine World Trade. The first edition collected, revised and added to these essays. The just-published second edition includes yet another eighteen essays, substantially expanding temporal and spatial coverage. An epilogue explores continuity and change in the 21st century world economy. Pomeranz and Topik argue that growing networks of exchange have linked the world's regions for at least the last five hundred years. Although globalization and the globalization debate may more intense than in the past, Pomeranz and Topik argue that "there is really nothing new about the New World Order." 1
     The book's eighty case studies are organized into six chapters. Three explore the structural of international trade ("The Making of Market Conventions," "The Tactics of Transport," and "Making Modern Market"), while the remainder tackle thematic issues ("The Economic Culture of Drugs," Transplanting: Commodities in World Trade," and "The Economics of Violence"). Each chapter begins with an an essay introducing relevant themes and debates. 2
    Both Topik's The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and Pomeranz's The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy moved memorably between regional and global scales to shed light on the global economy. No surprise, then, that The World that Trade Created achieves its ambition: to "wed the insights of world systems analysis – that the local must be understood in its global context – with the perspective of local studies that see variation and local agency shaping the global environment." 3
     Taken together, these essays argue that markets have always been "socially constructed and socially embedded" – in short, that local conditions matter. Cultural idiosyncrasies have influenced trade practices, goods, and tastes as much as the market's "invisible hand." The contact (or in some cases, collision) between cultural expectations shaped the outcome of trade in often unanticipated ways. The potato, for instance, is nutritious, easily cultivated and safely stored. But this does not fully explain its reception among Europeans new to this American plant. While early modern European elites welcomed the potato as an aphrodisiac, the working poor associated the potato with Indian slaves laboring in the Spain's Peruvian mines. By investigating the cultural story behind economic exchange, Topik and Pomeranz offer a nuanced understanding of the emergent global system. 4
     The World That Trade Created also challenges the view that Europe was the source and center of world trade networks. A case in point: the vitality and sophistication of Southeast Asian trade in (see, for example, "When Asia was the World Economy"). Conducted by sea, Southeast Asia was by the 17th century a critical node in a dense commercial matrix linking East Asia (particularly China), South Asia, and the Middle East. Other essays investigate pre-Columbian trading networks; Aztecs, for instance, maintained a network facilitating the exchange of silver from New Mexico, Jaguar pelts from the Yucatán, and cacao from Honduras. 5
     In short, The World that Trade Created reveals unexpected and provocative connections, both between the local and the global and between culture and economy. In the classroom, these eighty case studies can be divvied up for short, focused assignments, allocated among student groups, or excerpted selectively in course readers. However they reach students, these short and well-written essays deserve a large audience. 6
David Pietz
Washington State University

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