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Americana
Cover of Americana
Americana
A 400-Year History of American Capitalism
An absorbing and original narrative history of American capitalism
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE ECONOMIST
From the days of the Mayflower and the Virginia Company, America has been a place for people to dream, invent, build, tinker, and bet the farm in pursuit of a better life. Americana takes us on a four-hundred-year journey of this spirit of innovation and ambition through a series of Next Big Things — the inventions, techniques, and industries that drove American history forward: from the telegraph, the railroad, guns, radio, and banking to flight, suburbia, and sneakers, culminating with the Internet and mobile technology at the turn of the twenty-first century. The result is a thrilling alternative history of modern America that reframes events, trends, and people we thought we knew through the prism of the value that, for better or for worse, this nation holds dearest: capitalism.
In a winning, accessible style, Bhu Srinivasan boldly takes on four centuries of American enterprise, revealing the unexpected connections that link them. We learn how Andrew Carnegie's early job as a telegraph messenger boy paved the way for his leadership of the steel empire that would make him one of the nation's richest men; how the gunmaker Remington reinvented itself in the postwar years to sell typewriters; how the inner workings of the Mafia mirrored the trend of consolidation and regulation in more traditional business; and how a 1950s infrastructure bill triggered a series of events that produced one of America's most enduring brands: KFC. Reliving the heady early days of Silicon Valley, we are reminded that the start-up is an idea as old as America itself.
Entertaining, eye-opening, and sweeping in its reach, Americana is an exhilarating new work of narrative history.
An absorbing and original narrative history of American capitalism
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE ECONOMIST
From the days of the Mayflower and the Virginia Company, America has been a place for people to dream, invent, build, tinker, and bet the farm in pursuit of a better life. Americana takes us on a four-hundred-year journey of this spirit of innovation and ambition through a series of Next Big Things — the inventions, techniques, and industries that drove American history forward: from the telegraph, the railroad, guns, radio, and banking to flight, suburbia, and sneakers, culminating with the Internet and mobile technology at the turn of the twenty-first century. The result is a thrilling alternative history of modern America that reframes events, trends, and people we thought we knew through the prism of the value that, for better or for worse, this nation holds dearest: capitalism.
In a winning, accessible style, Bhu Srinivasan boldly takes on four centuries of American enterprise, revealing the unexpected connections that link them. We learn how Andrew Carnegie's early job as a telegraph messenger boy paved the way for his leadership of the steel empire that would make him one of the nation's richest men; how the gunmaker Remington reinvented itself in the postwar years to sell typewriters; how the inner workings of the Mafia mirrored the trend of consolidation and regulation in more traditional business; and how a 1950s infrastructure bill triggered a series of events that produced one of America's most enduring brands: KFC. Reliving the heady early days of Silicon Valley, we are reminded that the start-up is an idea as old as America itself.
Entertaining, eye-opening, and sweeping in its reach, Americana is an exhilarating new work of narrative history.
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  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2017
    A cavalcade of capitalism celebrating the machinery of wealth while cautioning that Americans "have also insisted upon their democratic right to curb its excesses."The United States, writes media entrepreneur Srinivasan, who emigrated from India when he was 8, has long resembled one big construction zone, building and (creatively) destroying in an endlessly volatile cycle. This book, critically yet enthusiastically pro-market--which is interesting given that the author's mentor is the noted leftist historian Richard White--charts that course. As the author notes at the beginning, the Puritans who arrived on the Mayflower did not come from out of the blue but instead were the product of venture capital sustained by the necessity of borrowing from outside at interest rates of more than 50 percent. They got out from under their investors' yoke, finally, by buying the creditors out. The fact of slavery casts a shadow on Srinivasan's generally positive account, but he brings a fresh view to the matter, positing that the market irrationally and wrongly valued the slave economy as being worth much more than it was, so that by the time of the Civil War, "there was more to protect and more to lose" on the part of Southern slaveholders. The author is particularly insightful on cycles of technological revolution, as with Andrew Carnegie's innovations as a steel baron and the rise of the automobile industry; who knew that Henry Ford dismissed his first efforts as "merely a money-making concern" without the necessary contribution to the common good? Spryly and with just the right amount of circumstantial detail, Srinivasan places all this against the context of his own history in America. Through his initiation in the startup world, he writes, "the energy of the era, the wildness of the boom, the ease with which an idea, a blank canvas, could turn into something confirmed my central belief about opportunity in America." A smart, accessible contribution to the nation's economic history.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 21, 2017
    Media entrepreneur Srinivasan sweeps through American history using “a series of breakthroughs, innovations, and ideas” to trace the development of American capitalism. He frames each of the book’s 35 chapters around what he dubs “next big things,” which serve as narrative lenses. For example, tobacco and cotton exemplify the plantation system; canals and railroads illustrate American expansionism; and computing and the internet spotlight the information age. It’s a lively narrative of ingenuity and achievement; Srinivasan’s scope is broad and he finds intriguing points of entry for each topic. Yet there are major problems with his account. Srinivasan immigrated to the U.S. at age eight and finds much to admire about America, but his work is partly premised on the unsupportable assertion that “most immigrants come here first to participate in its capitalism.” He is also open about his desire to divorce economic history from political history even as he offers such insights as “the cold economics of one man’s rationality reinforced his neighbor’s racism.” His slight chapters on slavery and the labor movement are underwhelming, and he occasionally gets wrong basic facts (conflating anarchists with Marxists, for example). Despite its novel approach and accessibility, Srinivasan’s book comes across as an uncritical hagiography of a system that has worked to his benefit.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2017

    This informative, fluently written history proceeds mainly by discussing in each chapter a product, service, or industry that has played an important role in the U.S. economy. Thus, it is more a history of American business than of the economy. That being said, entrepreneur Srinivasan does not ignore broader subjects nor social or political history, but these topics arc largely presented through the prism of business history. The author admires the U.S. political-economic system, which he regards as flexible and pragmatic but not in a simpleminded way; there is no idealization. As he sees it, in the U.S. system there is both a creative/destructive capitalistic element that encourages innovations that often hurt some people even as they help others, and a democratic, egalitarian component. The author's approach acknowledges complexities and is nontendentious; his overall tone soberly optimistic. VERDICT This lengthy, episodic book is an intelligent survey of U.S. business history, stronger on description than synthesis, and accessible to a wide audience. It will likely appeal to those with a taste for popular U.S. history.--Shmuel Ben-Gad, Gelman Lib., George Washington Univ., Washington, DC

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A 400-Year History of American Capitalism
Bhu Srinivasan
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