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  • From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000
  • Jorge González del Pozo
From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000 Duke University Press, 2006 Edited by Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal and Zephyr Frank

The year 1492, a point of no return in World economy, encompasses the beginnings of what has been defined as globalization. Despite the relative novelty of this term, this book explores the trajectory of commodity chains that link, shape, and condition the internationalized panorama. Latin America, as the field of exploitation by the old and new western economies (Europe and US), turns into the main character of this work: "Today there is virtually no agricultural, industrial, commercial, or financial activity that is not highly globalized" (Topik, Marichal and Zephyr 8). By focusing on the products that have been extracted, grown, manufactured, and finally exported through centuries, this study establishes the relations among producers, intermediaries, and consumers, facilitating a unique understanding of the contemporary situation of Latin America and the direction of transnational economy, while respecting various countries's historical underpinnings.

From Silver to Cocaine is a historical review of the World situation and development driven by an economic point of view. This collection [End Page 231] of essays, organized chronologically, includes articles dealing with the main products that have been key commodities in Latin America and therefore in the rest of the World. This study is divided in twelve chapters that explain the features of the trade of each of the products: silver/gold, indigo, cochineal, tobacco, coffee, sugar, cocoa, banana, guano/nitrate, rubber, henequen, and cocaine. By addressing questions that are period and commodity specific, as well as analyzing the impact of this trade in politics, society and economy, the reader might think that this book solely supports a global context. In fact, a globalized economy is the common aspect that links the numerous essays. Although such a macro vision anchors this study, local character and regional features are crucial elements in comprehending the dimension of this ambitious and necessary work, specifically through the dichotomous treatment of global versus local questions.

Structurally, the chronological order, combined with the wide representation of most of the Latin American countries and the special emphasis on Brazil—a country that tends to be forgotten in several studies dealing with Latin America—facilitates the reader's inquiries. The connection between the historical/economic commentary and the contemporary situation are common through many chapters, explaining certain moments in the past, while engaging the reader with the developmental path. The economic specific terminology presented in the book is accessible to those readers without a strong background in the subject. In this work the main concept of commodity chains functions as the key articulation and helps to understand how a market grows, how monopolies impact economy, and that profitability and redistribution of a commodity are one of the main transitions in World economy.

In the last stages of this analysis the book strongly presents its positioning by offering:

[n]ew approaches to the process of growing world economic integration, arguing that the knowledge of historical origins and dynamics is necessary to achieve a fuller comprehension of the complexities of contemporary age.


From the point of view of Hispanic Studies, this work condenses main topics that drive social relations, cultural and political manifestations, and mainly an economic/historic perspective that allows almost any reader to reach a greater understanding of how Latin America has developed its economy and, therefore, how the world works in relation to the globalization reality. From Silver to Cocaine approaches world history and economy by presenting a meaningful, contemporary trajectory, giving a more complete view of the intricacies of the Latin American cultures.

Jorge González del Pozo
University of Michigan-Dearborn


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pp. 231-232
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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