Americana Book Summary - Americana Book explained in key points
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Americana summary

Bhu Srinivasan

A 400-Year History of American Capitalism

4.3 (73 ratings)
37 mins

Brief summary

Americana by Bhu Srinivasan is a comprehensive history of the United States through the lens of business and commerce. It explores the economic roots of American culture and its impact on the world.

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    From the voyage of the Mayflower to the Revolutionary War, early America was already tied to capitalism.

    The story of the Mayflower and the settling of the pilgrims in New England in 1620 is well known. But a key question is often overlooked: how was the trip financed? The answer shows how close the connection between America and capitalism was right from the beginning, and explains the settlers’ fight for their freedom later on.

    The voyage was financed by a group of investors in England via a company called the Virginia Company of London. Numerous individuals put in small amounts, limiting their financial risk. They stood to gain hugely, but only in the relatively unlikely scenario that the voyage was a great success. It was an early form of what we now call venture capital funding.

    As things turned out, the New World did indeed provide plenty of financial opportunities for traders back in England. A particular early success was beaver skin, sold as a luxury product in Europe. The colonists obtained it via trade with Native Americans, who were skilled at hunting beaver and preparing the pelts. Later, tobacco turned into a huge trade, especially on the farmlands of Virginia and Maryland. This time, the hard work was done by slaves, the first of whom had arrived in Virginia a year before the Mayflower.

    The tobacco trade grew to astonishing proportions, accounting for 80 percent of colonial exports to England in 1700. But America’s relationship with Great Britain, which it was still part of, began to seem one-sided. One issue rose to the forefront: taxation without representation. In 1765, facing war debts, England had begun to tax American colonies via the Stamp Act, meaning that obtaining any official document was subject to an extra fee. Yet the colonies were not represented in the English parliament. Who, then, represented their rights?

    American negotiators including Daniel Dulany and Benjamin Franklin succeeded in getting the Stamp Act repealed, but more problems were inevitable. In protest at yet more British taxes, some Bostonians held a ship called the Dartmouth captive at port in 1773, tipping its cargo – 45 tons of tea – into the harbor. The Revolutionary War began not long after.

    American independence may have been about securing freedom, but it was also about money. The American colonies and their inhabitants were no longer satisfied with their original purpose of providing a profit for the Englishmen across the ocean.

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    What is Americana about?

    Americana (2017) traces the history of the USA from one key perspective: capitalism. Bhu Srinivasan shows how the development of the country has been closely bound up with the development of capitalism, from the New England colonies’ earliest days to the most recent innovations of Silicon Valley or Wall Street.

    Named by The Economist as one of the best books of 2017

    Who should read Americana?

    • American history enthusiasts
    • People interested in the economy past and present
    • Fans – or enemies – of capitalism

    About the Author

    Bhu Srinivasan is a media entrepreneur who came to the USA from India at the age of eight, traveling widely around the country with his family. Early in his career, he founded a news aggregation startup, and went on to work in gaming, publishing, and data. He now lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. Americana is his first book.

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