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Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  557 ratings  ·  78 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published September 26th 2017 by Penguin Press
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Marks54
Nice try, but no. The book is well intentioned but in my opinion fails to deliver on its promise. The author is well read and seems to come from a venture background. He has written a 400 year history of American capitalism that seems somewhat effective as an extended personal statement of the author’s views on the American experience with the market. I would have liked the book more if it had been good history along with being a heartfelt personal reflection on US business history. Every one of ...more
Scott Hartley
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an excellent overview of 400 years of American capitalism with tremendous insights. It's a quick read, though roughly 500 pages. The stories are tight. Not too much detail, but enough to paint the picture and tie together the narratives. There are profound parallels to our modern world, and we all might hit pause on the iPhone and crack a history book. This one doesn't disappoint.
Travis Tucker
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's possibly just my finance background, but I loved this book. The book (incompletely, of course) recounts American history through the eyes of business. It provided a new point of view (and associated motivations that weren't traditionally told) on many events throughout history. I enjoyed how it told a number of entrepreneurial stories that I hadn't previously heard, especially in the gilded age and prior. I look forward to reading further books to learn more about the more interesting ones. ...more
Rama
The American capitalism in Global Economy

Adam Smith’s masterpiece of economic analysis, The Wealth of Nations, was symbolic in that its publication date of 1776 coincided with the Declaration of American Independence. Smith examined simple economic concepts in which that individuals are capable of setting and regulating prices for their own goods and services. He summarized capitalism in terms of common sense; as how markets move, why they move, and how variables affect the outcomes. He
...more
Mike Zickar
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, business
A wonderful book. The author reviews the history of capitalism within the history of the US, focusing a lot on technological advances that spurred the advance of our economy. One recurrent theme is that our capitalism is not the unfettered kind that laissez faire right wing pundits like to claim it is, but that the interplay between government and private industry has led to most of our progress.

Although much of this story is probably familiar territory to most readers, the author adds fresh
...more
Bharathi
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Even without a hypothesis, this book clearly tells us the story of the march of American capitalism from the Mayflower to the Occupy mvement.

Americana enumerates the different factors geographical, cutural and historical that has created the progress of this unique economy.

It covers topics diverse as tobacco and cotton to railoads, newspapers film, suburbia, computers and mobile phones, giving us a glimpse of the American free enterprise.

After reading this book, I am left with wanting to read a
...more
Robert Muller
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
3-1/2 stars, half a star taken away for my main criticism: the book is so big-picture the pixels don't reveal anything. This is a positive review: Bhu Srinivasan is a great writer, and this is a great read: 500 pages went like a good mystery novel. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't really make sense in the end because it's really just a series of short stories, like Kennedy's Profiles in Courage: what Capitalism in America did right and wrong to get us to where we are today. Srinivasan turns up a ...more
Kathleen (itpdx)
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
I am intrigued by the idea of teaching history using silos or areas of interest, such as science/medicine, culture, or sports as examples. This would be a main text for the business/economics silo. Bhu Srinivasan follows American business starting with how the original colonies were structured and financed. I found out about this book from an episode of the podcast Backstory on the Civil War. Some of the interesting things I found out from this book:
How important the California and Alaska gold
...more
D.L. Morrese
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
It's all about money. This is the story of how the quest for personal wealth shaped America. It's partly a story of innovation, but mostly about how those innovations were capitalized to make as much money from them as possible. Benefits to society were sometimes incidental, but the driving force was a capitalist trying to make a (preferably quick) buck. Often this meant finding ways to cut out the original inventors. There are few stunning insights or surprising revelations, and no value ...more
Tony61
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
The author’s thesis is that American history is the story of capital going where it is treated best. This perspective is presented with vignettes that point out that while political freedom is important, it was not necessarily unique to America, but the ability to capture wealth was indeed best adapted in the New World.

Chapter names correspond to industries and institutions that have created wealth in America, e.g., Tobacco, Taxes, Cotton, Slavery, Steam, Railroads, Retail, Unions, Automobiles,
...more
Tessa
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating look at capitalism through the perspective of American history. It is kinda long, but very easy to read. I learned so many things I did not know. Highly recommend!
Olya
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Really interesting look at American capitalism and the country's history. Some great stories there that make you re-think what you thought you knew.
Jeff Keehr
Aug 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Besides the fact that cotton and tobacco represented the number one exports of this nation in the early part of the 19th century, I don't think I learned anything new from this book. It was a disappointment. It provides the history that its title encompasses but it doesn't really add much to that history in the way of commentary. It fails to generate much excitement about the great moments in technological advancement or universal availability of new appliances and tools that have changed the ...more
Tosin Adeoti
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This afternoon, I finished Bhu Srinivasan's "Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism".

It's always exciting to have people read books with you. Sometimes the thought that those you started the book with have finished reading and are asking for a new recommendation can only encourage you.

This book was not an exception. Not unlike some of the other books I have journeyed this year with, this was one that had me studying dozens of reference materials to further understand the topics
...more
Charles
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Intellectually Stimulating, Original Look at Forces Shaping American Economic Growth

Author Bhu Srinivasan has chosen 35 separate developments that shaped the growth of American capitalism over 400 years. Each has its own short chapter, and the author has a fresh, often provocative insight into every one of them.

For example:

In the last 20 years we have seen the influence of venture capital as the source of funding for Silicon Valley and dot com startups. As such, it has been an engine
...more
Frances
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is an entertaining textbook. Like most textbooks, there are no women or people of color named as inventors, or really named at all (aside from the institution of slavery). A chapter opens by applauding all the men inventors who pushed society "forward": "Some inventor, somewhere, has often paid the price of seemingly endless frustration, dispiriting self-doubt, and years of thankless toil. And this frustration is usually layered upon a foundation of centuries of other men's fruitless ...more
Laura
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Americana, Bhu Srinivasan basically rewrites your high school US history textbook through an economic lens. It's a mildly interesting concept, and it leads to some fascinating anecdotes and a greater emphasis on certain points that tend to be overlooked in history lessons, but overall it doesn't have anything too orginal to say.

For example, the fact that the collective value of salves in the South on the eve of the Civil War was in the neighborhood of $4 billion, and as such was the largest
...more
Roman Tsegelskyi
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
What an amazing book! The Economist had this book in their list of 'Best Books of 2017' and after overcoming initial skepticism (after all author is of rather unexpected background), I decided to read it and it has totally surpassed all my wildest expectations.

The book is structured in a way of explaining every major innovation since the Mayflower expedition to set up a settlement in North America and how each of those innovations came to life, their effect on their respective time and beyond.
...more
Michael Mikowski
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author came to this country as a young child because both of his college educated parents could not make the life they wanted in their native India. A college assignment made him reassess his family is 10 years in the United States, and he realized how much of their experience was driven by the workings of capitalism. Or rather, the American version of capitalism.

Starting with the pilgrims and ending with the Internet, each chapter lays out a broad history of how a particular area of
...more
Anthony Meaney
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exceptionally well written history of American business from the Mayflower and its investors to the iphone.

The book is divided into chronologically chapters concerning separate industries but you can pick any chapter you want and read it as a singular and complete unit.

Most of the stories are, quite frankly, amazing. And you'll find yourself saying "wow I didn't know that" on almost every page.

Things like: How did Franklin Roosevelt as secretary of the Navy help usher in modern radio?
How is
...more
Chris Jaffe
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, us-history
It's a nice, easy read. If you're looking for something in-depth or detailed, this isn't for you. This reads like a series of vignettes covering not most high profile parts of the US economy. It's like Srinivasan went on a brainstorming session asking himself, "what are some of the most famous industries and capitalists in US history?" and then decided to do some basic research on them, and this book is the result. Nothing is really breaking ground - to be fair, it doesn't really claim to do ...more
Michael Catalano
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive history of capitalism in America from the time of the Mayflower until present day. This work tells the great tale of American capitalism and how different actors and institutions attempted to maximize the innovation and rise in standard of living capitalism brings while curbing it's excesses. Personal stories of individual Americans and capitalists weave into the threads of overarching history in each of America's significant errors. An interesting theme introduced and carried ...more
Rajesh Kandaswamy
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a sweeping narrative of how capitalism and the economy grew in America. The author speaks of many key developments, the people involved and how these areas connect over time. The chapters are on areas such steel, railroads, etc. and they describe how they played a part in growing capitalism in America, while discussion on everything else that would have happened at the same time is ignored. This causes the book to appear incomplete initially compared to many books on any history, but it ...more
Omotola
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Srinivasan's analysis of America's history with capitalism is both brilliant and incisive. He offers a very nuanced take on the merits and the downfalls of capitalism as an economic strategy. Ordinarily, some of his analysis would sound commonplace were it not for the fact that he is also an ardent venture capitalist.

This book is historically rich. He quite literally goes through almost every period of American history and carefully examines what factors and philosophies drove the success of
...more
Rahul  Adusumilli
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Rahul by: Economist?
I'll simply list the 35 chapters and leave it at that.

Venture, Tobacco, Taxes, Cotton, Steam, Canals, Railroads, Telegraph, Gold, Slavery, War, Oil, Steel, Machines, Light, Retail, Unions, Papers, Trusts, Food, Automobiles, Radio, Bootlegging, Film, Flight, Suburbia, Television, Roads, Computing, Start-ups, Finance, Shoes, Internet, Mobile.

Like different decades, some chapters are better than the others. For example, the chapter on Film feels a bit perfunctory while the one on TV is strong
...more
Jennifer Tunning
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a slow slow book, while it moved through history there wasn't an accomplishing narrative, goal, or question to be answered by the text. This was especially disappointing after the prologue had told us the story of an immigrant child from India who wanted to understand capitalism and the reasons to move to the United States. The text forced you to draw your own conclusions and gave little global and class context to most events. Overall, it's informative and history can tell us where we ...more
Glenn
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
General thesis that American history was driven more by economic factors than religious, political, patriotic, or other intangibles. No new major events, but a fun lens to review all that you know, and a ton of interesting case studies and profiles to keep it interesting . The narrative reminds you of the continuous nature of history, even though we tend to compartmentalism “then” and “now.”

I read as a audiobook and it felt like 20-30 minute podcast I looked forward to on the commute.

Would
...more
Lynn
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a quick trip over a very complex subject, which is the development of capitalism in America and simultaneously the development of America by capitalism. The author is the child of economic refugees from India so his basic take is that capitalism is a good thing, though he is not shy to point out its paradoxes and problems. The most interesting part of the book for me were the brief vignettes of various famous capitalists.
Mehrsa
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
It’s like a long string of interesting tidbits that have no relation to each other or a central theme. There’s no thesis here. What exactly is the author saying about capitalism? That it existed and led to certain products being created? This is at best a good first draft of an idea. In the end, you have a bit more knowledge about maybe a few stories you hadn’t already heard but no new ideas or really anything to mull over.
Jim Carroll
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive look at U.S. economic history.

The first half of the book has interesting perspective on economic events that had significant impact on the development of the United States. The second half continued in The same vein but gradually veered into more social commentary. Very well researched and well written although not anything earth shaking in terms of new material.
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