Classic Books in Business History

15 07 2010

A former grad student in our department who is now teaching English at a Korean University emailed me recently. He said that he had recently become interested in knowing more about business history and would like a list of interesting books.  He is a bright guy but admits that he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know that much right now about business history. His MA thesis was really in the field of political history.  He wants to learn more and he has access to Amazon and a credit card.

I need to recommend a few books that will allow him to sample some business history. He wants books that are solid scholarly secondary and which are moderately enjoyable to read, so literary style matters. The books can be on pretty much any country, American, European, or Asian. I suspect that he would particular like transnational or comparative topics.

Oil Field in Russia, Pre-1914

I’ve decided to share this list here in case it interests other people. If you have other books I should have suggested, feel free to recommend them in the comments section.

The Great Divergence : China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz.
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2000.

The Visible Hand : the Managerial Revolution in American Business by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press, 1977.

Multinationals and Global Capitalism : from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century by Geoffrey Jones.  Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Emergence of Multinational Enterprise: American Business Abroad from the Colonial Era to 1914 by Mira Wilkins, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1970.

The World’s Banker : the History of the House of Rothschild by Niall Ferguson. London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998.

Sloan Rules : Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors by David Farber. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Do readers of the blog have other suggestions? Which books are missing from my list?

P.S. Since my correspondent is now living in Korea, I thought that he might be interested in East Asian business history. A website was devoted to East Asian Business history was recently launched. It website contains videos of academics talking about their research. Right now there are just three videos online, but more will be coming soon. Of the three videos, the one that is most likely to interest a political historian is this one.  In the video, Tim Wright of the University of Sheffield talks about Chinese companies responded to the Great Depression.

Here is the summary of his talk: “Globalization is nothing new, nor are economic crises.  Up to the late 1920s, the coastal areas of China were closely tied in to the world economy for many years, but this pattern was to some extent interrupted by the Great Depression, which had serious effects particularly on two of China’s staple exports, silk and soybeans. The Depression had, however, a very limited effect on total output in China, whether industrial production or GDP. It was nevertheless a very important event politically, and this was partly because of its effect on businesses in China, both foreign and Chinese owned. This presentation will argue that fluctuations in the value of China’s (silver) currency were crucial in determining the fate of business enterprises in this period. Specifically, those (Japanese-owned) business enterprises that used the gold yen suffered a sharp and catastrophic decline in their competitiveness from the very onset of the Depression in 1929. This brought forward a series of responses that culminated in Japan’s abandoning the gold standard and in the Japanese occupation of North-east China in 1931. In contrast, enterprises, whether Chinese- or foreign-owned, whose business was based on China’s silver-standard currency enjoyed a boom at the very time their Japanese competitors were suffering.  Their problems came in the mid 1930s when the value of China’s currency rose sharply against other currencies that had been taken off the gold standard. This led to a business crisis for these enterprises, whose manifestation was mainly in the form of falling profits rather than falling output. The government response involved a shift towards intervention in the economy on the part of the Nationalist state. The Nationalists’ currency reform was crucial to an improvement in the situation of the Chinese enterprises.”



2 responses

30 07 2010
K D Tennent

Is he still after this? I could send him a hypothetical ‘BH101’ reading list that I devised.

30 07 2010

Yeah. You could post it here in the comments section or on your own blog. If the latter, I would link into it.

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