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Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  962 ratings  ·  120 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 f ...more
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published September 26th 2017 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 4.39  · 
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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. ...more
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 support
...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
Mike Zickar
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, history
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 per
...more
Jacek Bartczak
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As for hundreds of years, the USA have been the center of innovation - part of this book can be called "the history of next big things". "The Americana" painted a freat perspective on the development of the most powerful economy in history. From Christopher Columb, trough Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller to Steve Jobs and Marc Andressen. Many interesting stories about beginnings of U.S. Steel, IBM, Ford, GE, General Motors, NBC, Netscape, AOL, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Wells Fargo to name a few. All ...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 r
...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 judgme ...more
Tony61
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Bianca A.
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, speed-read
The book is exactly what the title promises, American history told through the central lens of its capitalism. It's perfect for history, and particularly American history, enthusiasts BUT dare I say even more so for fans of capitalism and economy in general as there is huge focus on the subject. For me these topics will always be a heavy and unpleasant (maybe because I've not read enough or maybe I fail to see its immediate utility to my life in any special way), but nonetheless a necessary read ...more
Bartosz Majewski
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think it's a great idea to write history based on enterpreneurial / capitalistic / industrial events instead of political ones. The author delivered a fascinating story of economic history of the USA. Even i really don't need another arguments to bemore pro-business or pro-USA i got some more.

I'd love to read a version of this book about Poland. Or Germany. Or China.
...more
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. ...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!
Xuhui Shao
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Easy to read American history from a capitalism view point. Not a ton of new material if you already are well versed in modern American history. Still a great read.
Param
Jan 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenal book, looking at the US from the perspective of different industries that have driven its economy. Highly recommend
Tori
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This felt like a good US history/economy refresher course. I liked the thematic chapters as organizing principle - enjoyed parts 1 & 2 best, 3 next, 4 least (probably because of familiarity with all of the more contemporary themes - didn’t feel like there were any new takes here). The personal stories and meandering/pivoting paths behind name-brand inventors and magnates that I didn’t previously know were entertaining and the book certainly does a good job of solidifying the allure and glory of ...more
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 wo ...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 un
...more
Joseph Pepe
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was an excellent intertwining of US history and capitalism. I enjoyed Srinivasan's writing style, and sheer detail he was able to include on so many industries, beginning with the Mayflower and ending with smart phones. While the book was in chronological order, which in and of itself was quite well done, each chapter reads as its own story on a specific industry so you can hop around if you'd like. From the Revolutionary war to tobacco, slavery, and the Civil War then on to railroads, ...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 a
...more
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.
Mario
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous, well-told story of how capitalism shaped America. A fascinating alternative way to view American history.
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 contributin
...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 t ...more
Anantha Narayan
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Americana is a fascinating look into the various capitalistic ventures in America’s history, ranging from tobacco, cotton, and gold to slavery and from various industries to the American way of life. And in all of this, there’s a common thread, first voiced by Adam Smith — despite the risk of total loss, money finds its way to opportunity when the potential rewards are high enough. For a non-American like me, the nuances and origins of many of these were extremely interesting, especially factors ...more
Saad
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very much enjoyed this book. Author did a wonderful job discussing the economic history of the US. It is written in chronological order - making the reader wander through America in different ages while making analogies to modern day.

I really liked the analogy of mayflower settlers being funded by venture capital. Showing the early risk appetite which is inherent in the makeup of the US.

I learned a lot about the history of the South and the economics of slavery explaining the responses to policy
...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. I
...more
Vlad Yunger
Apr 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business-history
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