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Mammon and Mankind

C.P. Chandrasekhar

By Amiya Kumar Bagchi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xxvi 426, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

The best economic history mines data from the past to establish dis- tinct patterns, impute causal effects and unravel the mechanisms that drive economic sub-systems. But given the demands set by scholarship based on archival records and atypical sources, the advance of knowledge often tends to be marginal and yet controversial. Innovative discussions on local or sectoral developments are so specialized in terms of subject matter that they are known only to researchers in the same or allied fields. But as the output of such scholarship accumulates the potential for analyses that provide the big picture increases. Despite some gaps or inadequacies of evidence, through such analyses, the larger story of the dynamic of whole systems can be told. The best scholars among those who have muddied their hands analysing the microcosm, with the erudition needed to cover the experience of many continents and examine the process of economic and social evolution over centuries, can step back and synthesize the results yielded by the efforts of many others, besides their own.   When pursuing history writing of this kind, it is inevitable that the predilections of individual historians are bound to influence the data filtered, the patterns read and the causal forces imputed. Hence, differences in the interpretation of the dynamic of history and its implications are substantial and characterized by a high degree of partisanship. However, for the reader, history of this kind is most interesting, especially when it validates and enriches perspectives derived from a reading of the present. From the point of view of relevance to the present, it is the history of capitalism as it evolved over a period of four centuries that is most fascinating. But this can also be the most controversial and partisan of economic histories, given the fact that different attitudes to the present can be justified by different readings of that past. The volume under review is one more contribution to the synthetic histories of capitalism, sited clearly in a tradition deriving from Marx. It shares with some, though not all, of them, the erudition, the organizational ingenuity and the power of reasoning needed to make the exercise worthwhile for the reader.   But it also stands above many such earlier attempts for a number of other reasons. First, a factor motivating the exercise is the need to go beyond conventional economic histories focusing on the expansion and diversification of capitalist production, to ...

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