That history is about people is a truth denied by many historians, who, instead, prefer to deal with abstractions, trends, groups, and discourses—indeed with anything bar the individuals who make the moves, express the thoughts, and understand and experience their age in its uncertainty rather than within the pattern-making of posterity. With its love of statistics and its preference for econometric models, economic history is especially prone to this tendency, and much of it is as dull as ditchwater, which is unfortunate because the reality is both interesting and important. This helps make Jessica Hanser’s first book a breath of the fresh air the ships of her merchants so desperately needed. An Assistant Professor of History at Yale-nus College in Singapore, itself an instructive instance of modern-day entrepreneurialism, Hanser based her book on a doctoral dissertation,...


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