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From Silk to Silicon

The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives

By Jeffrey E. Garten
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From Silk to Silicon by Jeffrey E. Garten

From Silk to Silicon (2016) tells the stories of several key figures who influenced the globalization of the world economy, from Andrew Grove to Genghis Khan. These blinks take you through centuries of history to meet the major players who shaped the development of human societies, employing everything from unbridled free trade to iron-fisted authoritarian rule.

Key idea 1 of 8

The great conqueror Genghis Khan launched the first golden age of globalization.

Temüjin, more commonly known as Genghis Khan, was one of history’s most famous emperors. Living during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, his military conquests helped the Mongolian Empire grow to include nearly 20 percent of the world’s land mass. But this obviously didn’t happen without a fight.

Genghis Khan was an especially brutal commander, and his troops murdered tens of thousands of people. In this way, he differed from many of his contemporaries.

For instance, when conquering a city or village, many emperors would give people the option to live under their rule. But Genghis Khan tended to go a different route: he would kill as many people as was necessary to crush the existing social hierarchy and establish his own rules without resistance.

Word of this practice spread quickly and many believed that he’d kill every grown man in a village if it could help him advance his goals even a little bit.

So, while Genghis Khan was indeed a violent war monger, he nevertheless established a firm and highly effective administration. Meanwhile, he went to work improving the Silk Road, the world’s most famous trading route, which stretched from East Asia to Europe and marked one of the first steps toward globalized trade.

The Silk Road also played a key role in consolidating his immense empire. Khan established trading posts on the route, encouraging people from all over his empire to travel and trade knowledge and innovations. He used the resulting information exchange to increase his military power by incorporating knowledge from the Mongol, Islamic and Chinese armies.

Beyond that, he was a profound believer in religious freedom and abolished many of the antiquated social structures present in the territories he conquered. This, in turn, served his own expansionist interests: people were no longer granted high social status because of wealth or family ties, but because they were educated and thus useful to the ever-expanding empire.

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