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The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  570 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Chosen by BusinessWeek as One of the Top Ten Business Books of the Year

With apologies to Hegel, Marx, and Lenin, the basic unit of modern society is neither the state, nor the commune, nor the party; it is the company. From this bold premise, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge chart the rise of one of history’s great catalysts for good and evil.

In a “fast-paced a
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 11th 2005 by Modern Library (first published March 4th 2003)
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C. Scott
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Perhaps this could have more accurately been called "A short history of capitalism." But it seems that using the "C" word is maybe a turnoff in our culture? Even though we are unquestionably a capitalist nation the word is rarely used honestly. Instead this book is a history of "The Company."

The authors try to play it down the middle and this book is best when it sticks to the facts. Things go wobbly when their analysis starts showing off their biases. This is a book that sees the modern Anglo-A
Nelson Rosario
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memory
Excellent book. The Corporation is a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. If you want a concise explanation of the systems that led to this happening read this book. One thing I love about reading history is noticing the similarities between my time and the past. For example, many of the complaints you read about today (corporations are too powerful, corporations are agents of corruption, etc.) have been lobbed against corporations since their inception. This is a quick and informative read. High ...more
Shane Senécal-Tremblay
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, reviewed
This is a really great book. In under 200 pages it gives you an impressively clear and comprehensive history of the joint-stock, limited liability company; as a legal entity, as a cultural force, an appendage of government, and most importantly as a creator of value. Having read a lot of Niall Ferguson, I was familiar with a lot of the overlap with financial history, but that in no way undermined my enjoyment of this book.

What really stood out to me was the sociological and cultural dimensions
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very interesting and even-handed book. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I would recommend it to anyone interested in social history. Companies and corporations are a vital part of the modern world and this account of their history is very thorough without being wordy or philosophical. If you work for a business or own one you should read this very steady history.
Jul 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Very short, but good overview of the development of the joint-stock company. It's helpful to have a sense of where these "powers that be" come from.
The company has a horrific history, has drastically changed our global society and has potential for a lot of good. Anything that exists simply to create wealth, however, is fundamentally flawed and I don't think it will be too long (maybe 2-300 years) (maybe a lot less) until we dispense of it.

Philosophically, I definitely fall into the "stakehold
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
A quick condensed history of the evolution of the corporate form. I particularly enjoyed the medieval and victorian parts, and the evolution of German and Japanese corporate forms. THe main purpose of this book is to give a broad introduction, which you would then may look into specialized subjects. The author himself admits there are not many authoritative books on the history of company organization..

The book is definitely not what i would call balanced, and largely washes over any negatives
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Company is a history of the transformation of companies and the surprising ways they have changed the world. The authors ambitiously cover 3000 B.C. to 2002 A.D., but focus mainly on business in the United States from the 19th to the 20th century. It was fascinating to see how companies have developed from the East India Company, to the railroad barons of the 19th century, to Enron, and finally to the modern age.

In its brevity, the authors don't take the space to explain many business terms
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Quick read. Interesting history but the content wasn't presented in a very engaging way. ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
A quick and fun history of joint-stock company. This book (the authors were effective) made me appreciate more what the company has down for the world, coming to the topic from much less appreciative position even though I think the point of their presentation misses the mark on certain important issues regarding the company's place in society.

In my simple assessment, the book is written from the point of view thus: has this efficient and effective method of growing wealth (joint-stock company)
José Augusto Miranda
Good book on the rise of corporations and corporate Capitalism. The authors give us a detailed history of the origins of the company from XV century to 2002. The bibliography essay at the end is a precious map to anyone interested in the topic.
Although the book is very informative, entertaining and well-read, the authors have a almost juvenile believe in the bright side of the Company. Sure, corporate Capitalism was able to transform the world in a pace and intensity impossible without their ca
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: capitalism
A solid and well written (at times even funny) history of one of the most important socio-economic innovations in human history: the company. The book follows its rise from the “proto-companies” of the merchants of the renaissance, the imperialist companies (think East India Company), the first joint stock corporation through to today’s multinationals.

Three factors are identified which made companies successful, and led to the rise of modern capitalism: companies as “artificial persons” (ie leg
Ogi Ogas
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My ratings of books on Goodreads are solely a crude ranking of their utility to me, and not an evaluation of literary merit, entertainment value, social importance, humor, insightfulness, scientific accuracy, creative vigor, suspensefulness of plot, depth of characters, vitality of theme, excitement of climax, satisfaction of ending, or any other combination of dimensions of value which we are expected to boil down through some fabulous alchemy into a single digit.
Two and a half stars: some interesting bits on the history of companies (especially the limited liability joint-stock breed) but forget about reading more than a hint of critical analysis. The authors do try to tone down their obvious admiration of the power and achievements of corporations, but you can tell it wasn't easy for them! ...more
GS Arnold
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Decent overview, though I would personally have preferred more detail. Not a criticism, was definitely meant to be a survey of basics, and for that it serves well.

Also rather focused more on the upside than the downsides of corporations. Those were mentioned, but glossed over for the most part.
Mark Bunch
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great quick read for people wanting to learn about the Limited Liability Joint Stock ownership entity.
this book covers the gamut of history and each nation's approach. If you want a survey course on what the company has done for mankind this little guide will do it.
Alexandru Avram
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Short overview of the history of the company. I enjoyed the funny anecdotes, but way to many facts crammed in.
Harish B
Aug 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Readability: medium
Insights : low
It's a good book that sketches the history of corporations in 190 pages.
Greg Hopper
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
Very interesting history of the corporation as an entity. Recommended by Amer Ali after his recommendation of "The Ascent of Money" proved to be a good one. ...more
Forrest Hosten
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
Incredibly fun book that everyone in business should read
Aug 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: research
The earliest companies were consortia of tradesmen. The earliest organized non-governmental units were probably churches and universities. But for centuries, legal constraints kept all but a handful of profit-seeking ventures from growing large. The few exceptions existed in the form of government-granted monopolies, most prominently the huge trading companies that dominated the global world of business from the 1600s through the 1800s.

"The Company" quickly walks its reader through a condensed e
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
A superficial paean to the corporate form of business that explains away recent aberrations like Enron and Worldcom and also discredits government oversight while at the same time touting government regulations and an aggressive free press as checks on the ability of corporations to make mischief. Recent events suggest that the authors' take charitably may be described as naive. Still, the book may be comforting to parents who wonder whether their childrens' business school tuition is well spent ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Quick read on the history of the company. Always interesting to see the patterns of history:
1. The changing line between states and companies over who does what (in that vein, the East India company).
2. The flux between scale and fragmentation: The role of scale (and resulting higher profits) as a competitive influence in 1st half of 20th century, even after the trusts were broken up. However, Britain had much smaller firms (to their determinant per the authors).
3. Profit schemes in Assyrians we
Diane Ramirez
Apr 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book was better in theory than in reality. A short book giving the very broadest strokes telling of the beginning of modern-day corporate structure. Probably too short and too general for such a topic that warrants many Michener-sized volumes. Would you read a pamphlet on the history of the USSR/Russia? Or listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor as a ringtone? Methinks not. My advice is find something more illuminating to read. ...more
Jul 22, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business-history
The book I started with when I decided to learn more about business and how it works. Fairly interesting, moreso if you don't know anything about business history...

Definitely a subject worthy of the Modern Library Chronicles series...
Aug 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Fascinating from an anthropological much of what we take for granted in our culture is based on corporate history. I also appreciate that the authors presented the company as neither demon nor savior.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Really good book on the history of the company. If you want to learn and understand why joint stock companies exist, why CSR is now mainstream among Fortune 500 companies, how Soxly improved corporate governance, and many other issues surrounding "the company", then this book is a must read. ...more
Vedran Kuljanin
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Good book. Easy read and accounts for ancient history to our present day, with three different potential futures of the company as a conclusion. It was interesting to learn how the idea developed and what positives and negatives came from the company. Recommended for sure
Leo Sanchez De Ferrari
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really like how the content is laid out and appreciate the criteria used in selecting what, of all the historical data, to focus on. The reading is light and very entertaining as well as informative. I’ve read the book three times already, I highly recommend it.
Noah Weisling
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was assigned this book for my course at IU on the history of the corporation, and I fell in love with it. It's a perfect short and brief history. It does not get too in depth, but it provides a great overview of how the company had developed into what it is today ...more
Jun 10, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written (as non-fiction books go), well-argued history and defense of the joint-stock company (corporations).
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Richard John Micklethwait CBE (born 11 August 1962) is editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, a position he has held since February 2015. A British journalist, he was previously the editor-in-chief of The Economist from 2006 to 2015.

Micklethwait was born in 1962, in London, and was educated at Ampleforth College (an independent school) and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied history. He worked

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