Lionel Barber, FT editor and chair of the judges, praised the finalists, drawn from a longlist of 15 titles, for making “complex ideas accessible with riveting narrative, fine writing and in-depth research”. He said this year’s books posed “hard questions, from the boardroom to the shop floor”.
As this might suggest, the book is for the most part a triumphalist history... For the most part, however, the story is one of exhilarating progress. The history the authors narrate is pretty familiar, although the angle from which it is done is distinctive enough... a certain moral obtuseness that will put off at least a few of the book’s readers... In short, Capitalism in America is a good read, but somewhat given to fantasy.
I was gobsmacked by this account... Neither man would deign to descend to the deep stacks of the wonderful library on Capitol Hill to discover anything, or to read sources that might challenge their deeply entrenched ideological views... The overall story is one of bewildering advance – the book rollicks along like a good Victorian adventure story – but only as long as those malevolent forces can be kept at bay... What threatens American capitalism now... proselytisers of an ultra-libertarian barbarism. This book, for all its breathless enthusiasm for capitalism, has sadly helped their cause.
Capitalism in America: a History – co-written with Economist journalist Adrian Wooldridge – does not quite clinch the declinist argument. The book concedes that Google, Apple, Facebook, and the tech giants of Silicon Valley, are the hegemons of the information revolution. In 2008 America faced an energy crisis. A decade later – to the consternation of OPEC and Russia – it is near self-sufficiency. Venture capital, seismic technology, and the wildcat spirit of Texas shale frackers, have together turned the US into the top global producer of oil and gas. Others have struggled to replicate this.
The book is best read as a cracking tale of America’s rise, a 300-year romp from wilderness to mass prosperity. Greenspan and Wooldridge conjure up the fantasy of a Davos World Economic Forum in 1620, with Chinese scholars in silk robes, Turkish civil servants in their caftans, a Moghul, a Spanish inquisitor, earnestly debating the forum theme: who will dominate the world in the coming centuries?
This is a robustly pro-market account that will leave plenty of space for critics from the left. The writers don’t address in detail challenges that have emerged in the past 40 years from such things as the sharp growth in inequality, the rapid concentration of industrial power in the hands of large companies, or the overbearing importance of the financial sector of the economy.
And yet this is a compelling and well-documented single-volume history. It reminds us of how the US has beaten the world in the past 150 years and why it might still be unwise to bet against it now.
The transformation of the US from wilderness to global hegemon is "the most remarkable story of the past four hundred years", according to the author... they may well be right... though it is written from a business perspective, to read Capitalism in America is to be deeply moved by the extraordinary productive energies of millions of ordinary people in search of a better life... This is a superbly written book, which takes readers through technical subjects with admirable clarity... The tone is businesslike but culturally savvy, with sociological themes, from "America's urban nightmare" of the Seventies and Eighties to "the rising share of working women" handled with sensitivity and skill... The book is not without faults... The late-19th century "robber barons" and their modern-day tech-giant counterparts get too easy a ride. More than the two paragraphs offered are needed on the role low interest rates played in causing the 2008 crash... But these are quibbles. Capitalism in America is an inspiring, rip-roaring read – like the astonishing story it describes.
Readers will emerge from this heady blend of economic, business, and political history with a sense of exhilaration that so much of the American experience could be described so vividly and insightfully, but many will prefer a different portfolio of policy prescriptions.