Americana: A History of American Capitalism

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 Barry Ritholtz

  Barry L. Ritholtz is co-founder, chairman, and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC. His focus has long…

One of my personal indulgences is that I purchase for myself every book recommended by Masters in Business guests.

This has led to some wonderful reading discoveries. The most recent delight came via Chris Davis of Davis Funds.

The book is Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan. It is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while, detailing the history of capitalism in America by looking at a series of industries and innovations: Srinivasan tells this history through its economic growth, less chronological than based on a specific economic goods: Cotton, Canals, Steel, Railroads, Radio, etc.

Each chapter is a mini history lesson, filled with wonderful details and factoids, a dive into the specifics of both the industry and the era surrounding it. I did not know the Mayflower was essentially venture funded. Details such as that fill each of the 35 chapters. Four centuries of American enterprise, unexpectedly interconnected across eras and industries.

It is also an unblinking look at the American economy, warts and all, from Slavery to Wall Street to Suburbia. 492 pages later, I was sorry to see it end.

There are lots of ideas captured here, and a reminder that the way we perceive the world is so often a function of the era we live in.

Even though it is unabashedly pro market and pro capitalism, the role of the government in fostering these industries cannot be overstated. America’s wealth and strength comes from the combination of both private sector and the government together. In some ways, it offers a parallel perspective to Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk.

Strongly recommended.

Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan



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