The best history books on cities, their trades, and world trade

Yasuhiro Makimura Author Of Yokohama and the Silk Trade: How Eastern Japan Became the Primary Economic Region of Japan, 1843-1893
By Yasuhiro Makimura

Who am I?

One of the oldest questions is: why are some countries rich and some countries poor? Adam Smith famously answered that it was the division of labor (specialization) and trade in his book The Wealth of Nations. The more you study trade, however, the more complicated the answer becomes. I have been grappling with this question since the 1990s, as a student, and I still do not have a simple answer like Adam Smith. However, I think I have come up with a framework to understand how the economic history of the world developed and I have been teaching that global history in college as a professor since the 2010s.


I wrote...

Yokohama and the Silk Trade: How Eastern Japan Became the Primary Economic Region of Japan, 1843-1893

By Yasuhiro Makimura,

Book cover of Yokohama and the Silk Trade: How Eastern Japan Became the Primary Economic Region of Japan, 1843-1893

What is my book about?

This study provides a broad political and economic examination of the impact of the silk trade on nineteenth-century Japan. It analyzes the economic role of Japan’s eastern interior region and that of the port of Yokohama. It argues that the economic development in this period laid the foundations for Japan’s prewar industrial development in the late nineteenth century and was largely responsible for the integration of Japan into the global economy.

The books I picked & why

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Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

By William Cronon,

Book cover of Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Why this book?

This classic work on economic geography by William Cronon demonstrates how the city of Chicago and the American West developed together. It is a history of the relationship Chicago had with the rest of America in the nineteenth century by looking at the flow of grain, lumber, and meat. The key role of the railroads is also featured as well.


From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfavolume 17

By Sebouh Aslanian,

Book cover of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfavolume 17

Why this book?

This book by David Aslanian features the Armenian merchants of the New Julfa district of the city of Isfahan in modern-day Iran. They conducted long-distance trade between India and Europe and competed against some of the giant corporations of the day such as the Dutch East India Company. The experts of the old silk road trade competed against the new maritime trades well into the nineteenth century.


The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

By Kenneth Pomeranz,

Book cover of The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

Why this book?

Taking us away from cities, this book will set your eyes on how these cities and their trades fit within a global framework. Kenneth Pomeranz argues that the key was the Americas which allowed Europe to engage in further specialization, and the fortunate location of coal in Britain, the country that started the industrial revolution. This industrial revolution was the key difference that led to the dominance of the West in global affairs.


Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850

By Prasannan Parthasarathi,

Book cover of Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850

Why this book?

Most people think Europe grew rich through industrialization and free trade. What they don’t realize is that this industrialization was initially started because of protectionism. Prasannan Parthasarathi shows how Britain banned the import of Indian cotton cloth, known as Calico, and developed its own industry. The free trade happened only after Britain succeeded in industrializing.


ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age

By Andre Gunder Frank,

Book cover of ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age

Why this book?

In ReOrient, A.G. Frank argues that this current situation in which the West is at the center of the world is a mere blip in terms of global history. Historically Asia was always the richer part of the globe and once again, in the near future, Asia will be the richest part of the globe again.


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