A Splendid Exchange Book Summary - A Splendid Exchange Book explained in key points
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A Splendid Exchange summary

How Trade Shaped the World

4.5 (33 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

A Splendid Exchange by William J. Bernstein is a historical account of global trade and its impact on civilization. From the Silk Road to modern-day globalization, Bernstein traces the evolution of commerce, culture, and exchange.

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    A Splendid Exchange
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    Trade began in Mesopotamia with early agriculture and the materials for simple tools.

    At your local supermarket, you might find fruit and vegetables from places as far away as Peru, New Zealand or Portugal; at Western appliance stores, you’ll see TVs from Japan or Taiwan; and at the clothing store, you’ll find shirts made in China or Bangladesh.

    Today’s globalized trade touches every part of our lives – but we hardly notice it anymore.

    To get the full story of how we reached this point, we have to rewind several thousands of years to Mesopotamia, where commerce began.

    Some of the earliest trade routes formed around the Persian Gulf, where agriculture was being developed and basic manufacturing methods were being used to create advanced tools.

    One of the earliest goods to be traded was obsidian, a black volcanic rock that was valued in prehistoric times because it was easy to turn into a razor-sharp weapon or tool.

    Archeologists have found obsidian flakes in the Franchthi Cave in Greece that date back over 12,000 years. And the only way for that obsidian to have ended up there was by having been transported from somewhere else, most likely from Mesopotamia.

    The region of Mesopotamia is often called “the cradle of civilization.” The ancient and fertile land was located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, two waterways that connect to the Persian Gulf.

    Mesopotamia was rich in many goods, including barley, fish and wool. But it also lacked some vital resources, including the timber, metals and stone needed to build weapons, boats and shelters.

    The benefit of trade thus quickly became clear, and the Mesopotamian nations of Sumeria, Assyria and Babylonia used their surplus goods to trade for metals from Oman, marble from Persia and lumber from Lebanon. This is how the Persian Gulf became an early center for trade and commerce by 3000 BC.

    As civilization slowly spread westward to Egypt and Greece, new trade routes emerged in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Greece exported wine and oils in exchange for the grains it lacked, like the wheat it imported from Egypt.

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    What is A Splendid Exchange about?

    A Splendid Exchange (2008) offers a comprehensive look at the events and inventions that enabled free trade on a global scale. It also shows how the fight between isolationism, or protectionism, and free trade had been going on long before the term “globalization” was ever coined. History shows us how natural and beneficial trade is between nations but reveals its dark and dangerous side as well.

    A Splendid Exchange Review

    A Splendid Exchange (2008) is an insightful exploration of the history and impact of global trade. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offering a comprehensive view of trade throughout history, it reveals the complex and interconnected nature of economic exchange.
    • Backed by extensive research and filled with interesting anecdotes and examples, the book provides a rich and engaging account of the topic.
    • By examining the cultural, political, and economic consequences of trade, it brings to light the far-reaching effects of global commerce, making it anything but boring.

    Best quote from A Splendid Exchange

    Alone among the worlds religions, Islam was founded by a trader.

    —William J. Bernstein
    example alt text

    Who should read A Splendid Exchange?

    • Economists and historians
    • People curious about the roots of globalization
    • Free-market adherents and trade protectionists

    About the Author

    William J. Bernstein is a retired neurologist whose popular writing has focused on modern investment strategies and financial history. His books include The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created and The Four Pillars of Investing.

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    A Splendid Exchange FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Splendid Exchange?

    The main message of A Splendid Exchange is the history and significance of global trade.

    How long does it take to read A Splendid Exchange?

    The estimated reading time for A Splendid Exchange is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Splendid Exchange a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Splendid Exchange is worth reading for its exploration of global trade's impact throughout history.

    Who is the author of A Splendid Exchange?

    The author of A Splendid Exchange is William J. Bernstein.

    What to read after A Splendid Exchange?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Splendid Exchange, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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