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Publisher's Summary

How did the dynamic economic system we know as capitalism develop among the peasants and lords of feudal Europe?

In The Origin of Capitalism, a now-classic work of history, Ellen Meiksins Wood offers a clear and accessible introduction to the theories and debates concerning the birth of capitalism, imperialism, and the modern nation state. Capitalism is not a natural and inevitable consequence of human nature, nor simply an extension of age-old practices of trade and commerce. Rather, it is a late and localized product of very specific historical conditions, which required great transformations in social relations and in the relationship between humans and nature.

©1999 Monthly Review Press; 2002, 2017 by Ellen Meiksins Wood (P)2021 Tantor

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incredibly dence.

it's an academic book that relise heavily on the reader knowing many concepts about the topic. The main problem is that I do know the vocabulary and terminology but the unbearably, unapologetically repetitive nature of the text makes me hate myself that I do know them because it all sounds so pompous.

lastly, there is no story. there is only the author's dry, algebraic sentences used to disprove other theories with out petty bad when the narrator sounds as bored as ido. It's too bad because it is a topic I realy want to know about, but I'm not looking to get my PhD in it.

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  • E N Cuentro
  • 06-21-21

A polemic rather than a historical account

I was hoping for a historical account of capitalism's emergence, or at least enough information to be able to make up my own mind. In fact, this is an argument in favour of an interpretation of capitalism rise rooted in the English agrarian economy from the 16th to 18th centuries, one apparently drawn substantively from the historical work of Robert Brenner. It argues against non-Marxist accounts rooted in commerce, and Marxist accounts centring the urban bourgeoisie or the role of colonialism.

The first of three parts is fairly dry and skippable, summarising contending theoretical viewpoints, but without enough detail to make them come to life. The third part ends with an argument connecting capitalism to post modernism, and the conclusion inveighs against so-called "market socialism". Both feel out of place, and more a product of things the author wanted to say about contemporary politics than anything else.

In between, the argument is developed well, albeit without the factual context and detail to make me really feel like I grasp the subject as a whole. The argument is that what is distinctive about capitalism is innovation in the direct process of mass commodity production, motivated by the desire to maximise profit in a competitive market, and drawing on "free" wage labour. Other candidates for the position of first capitalist economy, particularly the Dutch Republic, are considered and rejected for reasons that seem sound given the definition at work. There are some interesting discussions on the relation to each of political ideas (Locke, Petty), colonialism, and the emergence of the modern state.

Overall, it is pretty interesting, albeit light on detail. I was left wanting to know more, so perhaps it works well as an opinionated introduction.

The performance isn't amazing, a bit flat and sometimes loses the rhythm of the sentence, but fine if you're willing to concentrate a bit.

1 person found this helpful