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Books

The turbulent reign of King Cotton: the dark history of one of the world’s most important commodities

A review of Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert reveals that while Britain abolished the slave trade in the early 19th century, 50 years later its cotton industry still depended on American slave-labour

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism Sven Beckert

Allen Lane, pp.616, £30

If not for cotton, we would still be wearing wool. To equal current cotton production, we would need seven billion sheep, and a field 1.6 times the area of the EU. Capitalism has spared us this itching, bleating nightmare. But capitalism, Sven Beckert writes in his hair-shirted history, Empire of Cotton, has wrought other horrors.

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