An engaging blend of biography and economic/colonial history, Merchant Kings tells the story of the trading companies that monopolised vast territories all over the world during the first great period of globalisation. The leaders of these trading companies exercised dictatorial power over millions of people, and devoted their time and resources to the accumulation of wealth through hunting, trapping, trade and exploration. It was a harsh existence on the frontiers of the civilised world, and these kings of commerce were larger-than-life characters; adventurers as well as merchants. They included men like Peter Stuyvesant, the one-legged governor of the Dutch West India Company; Cecil Rhodes, founder of the De Beers company (and after whom Rhodesia was named); and George Simpson, the infamous 'Little Emperor' of the Hudson's Bay Company, who was chauffeured around his vast fur domain in a giant canoe, exhorting his oarsmen to paddle harder in order to set canoeing speed records. Merchant Kings examines their rise and fall in the centuries before colonialism and empire, analysing the political, social and cultural legacies of this fascinating, cut-throat age.
Stephen R. Bown is the author of Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver (2008); Scurvy (2003), published in six territories, and A Most Damnable invention: Dynamite, Nitrates and the Making of the Modern World (2005). He lives in Canmore, Alberta.