Bookshelf / Merchant Kings

Merchant Kings

When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900


Publishers Weekly gives Merchant Kings a Starred review – October 25, 2010

"Bown has produced a magnificent description of the six great companies, and their leaders, that dominated the "Heroic Age of Commerce." Bown demonstrates how the corporations served as stalking horses for kings and parliaments while enriching shareholders and the powerful managers themselves. Jan Pieterszoon Coen of the Dutch East India Company was particularly noteworthy for cruel tyranny in what is now Indonesia. The English East India Company's Robert Clive, through genius and perseverance, rose to a position of near-absolute power in India. Aleksander Baranov of the Russian American Company, known as the "Lord of Alaska," was bound by ties of decency and responsibility to the company's men, but also had a deep strain of brutality. Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company and of De Beers, the South African diamond monopoly, was dedicated both to the British Empire and to the success of his various enterprises. Bown presents a fascinating look at the men who exploited resources and native peoples while laying the foundations of empires. "Neither heroes nor angels," Bown says, their global impact was as great as that of any king."

– Publishers Weekly

The Right Honourable Paul Martin Endorses Merchant Kings

After picking up a copy of Stephen Bown's new book Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600–1900, Former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin couldn't put it down. He called Stephen to tell him so, and then officially endorsed the book saying:
"Stephen Bown tells a fascinating story, one that provides a very different perspective on the colonial period than that which is to be gleaned from the usual grocery list of significant events. I started Merchant Kings on the plane one evening and didn't put it down until the Sun rose the next morning. I lost a night's sleep – but it was worth it."

– The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada

"In the present age of wealth and excess, corporate greed and scandal, an ingrained culture of entitlement shared by senior executives and senior bureaucrats, and inexcusable poverty, inequity, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation, Bown's stories resonate with us today on a much more immediate level."

– Northern Mariner

"The "broaden" Canadian history and consider it in the context of world events is evidenced in works such as Stephen R. Bown's Merchant Kings, which provides a very readable comparative look at six of the most prominent characters in trading companies that dominated world trade, commerce and colonial expansion...Whether they were truly merchant kings, or merely renegades in the wilderness, this book provides a very accessible glimpse into a fascinating era when companies more than countries ran the world and actions of individual men really did change it profoundly."

– Canada's History

"Stephen R. Bown introduces a cast of colourful and often unscrupulous characters. In the Age of Heroic Commerce, these merchant-explorers and the companies they ran, such as the Dutch East India Company, the Russian-American Company, and the British South African Company, ruled vast tracts of the globe, raking in unimaginable wealth. With the backing of their home nations, the companies deposed rulers, raised private armies, waged war and collected taxes."

– History Magazine

"Bown has shown once again that he has a keen eye for details and narrative that bring history to life, even for the impatient modern reader. In this tale, he profiles six men who were crucial to the establishment of international commerce in the 17th to 19th centuries."

– FastForward Weekly

"Stephen Bown has ingeniously whittled this multinational history down to vignettes of six of its more notorious figures . . . These characters are as familiar to us as evil story-book characters, yet as foreign to contemporary business standards as Genghis Khan."

– Globe and Mail

"In Merchant Kings... Bown Chronicles the lives of six men who governed and shaped the world as we know it. He deftly interweaves detailed story and back-story, military battles and backroom deals, with global forces and each man’s idiosyncrasies. In a highly accessibly style, he recounts the achievements – and the shame – of these mercantile actors..."

– Vancouver Sun