Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Perspective of the World

Book Cover

Book Title

The Perspective of the World: Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th Century, Volume 3. London: Phoenix Press, 2002


Braudel, Fernand (translated by Siân Reynolds)


This book is the final volume of Fernand Braudel’s trilogy on civilization and capitalism. Building on the observations of the first two volumes, the work finds commonalities in global developments and relates it to the present. This particular volume focuses directly on the economic history of the world in the time period, employing and expanding upon the literature of Josef Kulischer and Werner Sombart- eventually breaking away because this book takes global, not just a European context.

The economic history of the world is the whole history of the world, seen from the vantage point of an economic history study. Braudel’s ability to use the model of time and construct his analysis around the concept of world-time is testament to his belief in the primacy of history in giving us insights into the present.

The book examines economies through trade, secular trends, and the appropriation and accumulation of specific resources (such as grain). Braudel’s claim “let us simplify without feeling too guilty about it” shows the conscious appropriation of the book’s topics into a structured model, but also admits the limitations of this approach. It is therefore a meditation on the origins of the economic system, and the nature about writing about the past. The latter work Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism is a broader introduction into the thoughts of the author into his work: the volumes show a historian unafraid to question his own methodology, especially dealing with a global scale of history over three centuries.
The book contributes to our understanding of mercantilism and roots the development and supremacy of colonial power and trade in broader contexts which allow both an internal and external examination of societies.

This book both highlights the ability for us to situate analysis in particular and also universal scales and thus gives critical insights into geography, and many other relevant fields.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

As with the other two volumes, the topics in the book are selected thematically. From the rise and decline of cities in Europe to the creation of national markets (and with it, national debt and productivity), the book is able to take a large course of the past and navigate through it by examining sources and reading the meaning of them on a scale of historical development. Essentially, the premise of capitalism and processes underpinning it keep the analysis grounded in explaining the ability of finance, or economy, to be a central part of history.

Whilst Europe forms a large part of the analysis, its relation to developments in the other parts of the world is examined, a “European world-economy” emerges as a part of the study –the bill of exchange and other such facets suggest the development of global exchange with a new world economy. The breadth of the study allows the reader to look at developments and their meanings in terms of human relations, for instance, in the case of warfare and the new meanings created by relating it to a world economy.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The book introduces capitalism as a barometer to understand long term aspects of the economic landscape. The book concludes the civilization and capitalism trilogy by opening up the volume to reflection and accepting that the past had contributed to a present that “lies before us in all its richness and confusion”.

Braudel makes it clear that the different forms of capitalism did not develop in a series of stages, with specialized forms developing over time. He posits that the merchants had simultaneously invested in trade, finance etc. Our concept of “monopoly” has to be understood as something which has developed in new ways through taking new forms, and the ability to choose is part of the way in which capitalism could change, it gives it vibrancy. By dislocating capitalism from the social reality, as most of this three part volume argues, is a fatal error, and the way in which Braudel has vivified the past is telling; the social systems and the development of a global market have to be seen as inter-related phenomena.

Reviewing the work of thinkers , and also reading the pace of capitalism’s development over different periods of time, the book is a contribution to the work in the field of economic history and also can help us have more insights into the presence of capital and its relation to our lives.

Annotated by Sandeep Singh