This review originally appeared in a now long defunct livejournal sometime around 2007.
The final volume of this magnum opus tracing in minute, painful, detail the creation of capitalism in the west, and the precursors and repercussions of that creation in the rest of the world. For my reviews of the other two volumes, check here and here.
My tolerance for the detailed economic historiography that makes up a lot of this book is pretty low. The breadth of Braudel’s scholarship is still deeply impressive, but as I got to the last hundred pages, I found myself wanting to skip more and more of the detailed recounting of other authors scholarship.
The main take away from Volume Three is something that most people who are interested in the industrial revolution probably already agree on – this wasn’t a revolution in the modern Russian revolution sense. It was a change in the means of organizing society that few noticed while it was happening, and few even tried to understand until much later.* This of course leads to one of the questions that lefties are always arguing over – if one of the greatest reengineerings of society happened without anyone really knowing it was happening, then why on earth does anyone think they can come up with the next great plan by a decision by a central committee? Braudel doesn’t answer this, but all the evidence he gives would point to the conclusion that planned revolutions are a pipe dream.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
* Even Adam Smith, who came a little late to the party, didn’t really grasp what was going on.