The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

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9780691124520: The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
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Human beings are the only species in nature to have developed an elaborate division of labor between strangers. Even something as simple as buying a shirt depends on an astonishing web of interaction and organization that spans the world. But unlike that other uniquely human attribute, language, our ability to cooperate with strangers did not evolve gradually through our prehistory. Only 10,000 years ago--a blink of an eye in evolutionary time--humans hunted in bands, were intensely suspicious of strangers, and fought those whom they could not flee. Yet since the dawn of agriculture we have refined the division of labor to the point where, today, we live and work amid strangers and depend upon millions more. Every time we travel by rail or air we entrust our lives to individuals we do not know. What institutions have made this possible?


In The Company of Strangers, Paul Seabright provides an original evolutionary and sociological account of the emergence of those economic institutions that manage not only markets but also the world's myriad other affairs.


Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, history, psychology, and literature, Seabright explores how our evolved ability of abstract reasoning has allowed institutions like money, markets, and cities to provide the foundation of social trust. But how long can the networks of modern life survive when we are exposed as never before to risks originating in distant parts of the globe? This lively narrative shows us the remarkable strangeness, and fragility, of our everyday lives.

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From the Publisher:

Short listed, 2005 British Academy Book Prize, The British Academy One of Strategy & Business's Best Business Books for 2004

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"No one, economist or civilian, could turn the pages of this book without spotting, time and again, some unexpected and arresting idea that really wants to be thought about. Paul Seabright takes the evolutionary point of view seriously and asks how human institutions make social life possible at all, especially when the many people on whom we depend for our subsistence are strangers. From biology to banking, it is a lively landscape."--Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences

"For too long, economists have been talking only to each other. Paul Seabright's achievement is to locate economics firmly in the mainstream of modern intellectual life, and to do so with style and verve."--John Kay, author ofThe Truth about Markets, columnist for the Financial Times

"The Company of Strangers is a gem--an undiluted delight to read. It addresses some of the most central problems of social science with compelling arguments, lightly worn rigor and erudition, and utterly jargon-free language. Seabright has an amazing eye for the telling detail, whether drawn from fiction, biology, social science or current news. I can think of no better introduction to the problem of social order-how is it possible?"--Jon Elster, Robert K. Merton Professor of Social Science, Columbia University, author of Alchemies of the Mind and Ulysses and the Sirens

"The division of labor among strangers is humankind's most momentous invention, on which all modern society depends. Yet since Adam Smith pointed this out in 1776, the question of how such relations between strangers are possible has continued to puzzle us. Now Paul Seabright deepens, adjusts, and extends the idea in the light of what we now know from psychology, genetics, and economics about human motives. Drawing on an extraordinary breadth of study, he explains how, unique among species, we found ourselves with a nature that equipped us to build this division of labor and so come to treat strangers as honorary friends."--Matt Ridley, author ofNature Via Nurture and The Origins of Virtue

"Fascinating. If you really want to understand who we are today, and how we make a living, readThe Company of Strangers to learn how, some 200, 500, even 140,000 years ago, we grew and evolved--in rather amazing ways."--Shlomo Maital, author ofExecutive Economics: Ten Essential Tools for Managers

"This is a wonderful book, very well written and accessible to a wide audience."--Diane Coyle, author ofParadoxes of Prosperity and Sex and Drugs and Economics

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780691146461: The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life - Revised Edition

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ISBN 10:  0691146462 ISBN 13:  9780691146461
Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2010
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9780691118215: The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

Prince..., 2004
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9788122418774: The Company of Strangers : A Natural History of Economic Life

New Ag..., 2006
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