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I didn't know much about the East India Company before making this purchase and it was a pleasant surprise to discover that it delivers on two levels; firstly as a gripping piece of history and secondly as an analysis of how global corporations can turn rotten. The story of "John Company" is a swashbuckling roller-coaster ride which starts in 1600 with Elizabeth the first's blessing for a company of trader/pirates. And despite the highly respectable facade which the company maintained in England Robins makes a compelling case that for the next 350 years or so they remained in the drug trafficking and extortion business with trade in exotic commodities like tea and precious gems maintained as a respectable if not particularly profitable sideline. The author gives us an exciting narrative in which rakish ne'er do wells go to exotic locations, do dreadful deeds and return with a mountain of cash overcoming, along the way, every obstacle put in their path. Just as a story it's great stuff although what the company actually got up to in India and China left me feeling that they were basically a gang of brutal narco-terrorists.
Robins is also interested in the way the company was run, how these governance arrangements effectively created a doomsday effect which meant that irrespective of the founders' ambitions to make money through mutually beneficial trade the EIC would ultimately turn corrupt in the search for larger and larger profits. Finally he extrapolates those insights into some thought provoking conclusions about our current world of globalization and multi-national corporations.
It's clear that an enormous amount of research went into it but the writing is so good that this was a very easy listen and the narrator helped with a clear, characterful performance. It'll be a shock if I listen to a better history book this year.
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