"From Silk to Silicon: The story of globalization through ten extraordinary lives", by Jeffrey Garten

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: Populists like to attack globalization -- it's not an exclusively modern phenomenon. Popular economic anxiety tends to breed tariffs and other trade barriers, while confidence tends to correspond with greater openness. While globalization may be a convenient boogeyman, it's also inevitable -- no matter how hard politicians try to institute barriers against it. Consider the following:

(1) People generally find economic growth desirable (and even when they don't, many individuals find their own profit-making desirable).

(2) Some people have better ideas than others.

(3) Once it becomes known that something "better" is available, that fact can't be un-learned -- and people will try to get their hands on what is better.

If each of those three statements remains true, then the forces that promote globalization will forever try to march forward, regardless of the headwinds. That, ultimately, is the lesson of "From Silk to Silicon" -- an excellent and highly readable examination of ten individuals who, throughout history and in wide-ranging ways, advanced globalization. It is a great work of popular history, finding common threads from 1162 AD to the present day, among the well-known (like Margaret Thatcher and Genghis Khan) and the little-known (like Robert Clive and Cyrus Field) alike. For the reader who takes an interest in history and economics, "From Silk to Silicon" is highly recommended reading. Even a well-rounded reader is likely to learn something new about at least one of the ten subjects, and the context by which each contributed to globalization is a delightful synthesis of history. This book is economic history as an explanation of the present day, rather than a mere collection of a few rote facts. And it is commendable reading.

Verdict: A valuable lesson in the inevitability of globalization, delivered through strong storytelling