Non-Fic Book Review: A Brief History of Capitalism By Yanis Varoufakis
In A Brief History of Capitalism, activist Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, pens a series of letters to his young daughter, educating her about the business, politics, and corruption of world economics.
Yanis Varoufakis has appeared before heads of nations, assemblies of experts, and countless students around the world. Now, he faces his most important―and difficult―audience yet. Using clear language and vivid examples, Varoufakis offers a series of letters to his young daughter about the economy: how it operates, where it came from, how it benefits some while impoverishing others. Taking bankers and politicians to task, he explains the historical origins of inequality among and within nations, questions the pervasive notion that everything has its price, and shows why economic instability is a chronic risk. Finally, he discusses the inability of market-driven policies to address the rapidly declining health of the planet his daughter’s generation stands to inherit.
Throughout, Varoufakis wears his expertise lightly. He writes as a parent whose aim is to instruct his daughter on the fundamental questions of our age―and through that knowledge, to equip her against the failures and obfuscations of our current system and point the way toward a more democratic alternative.
A Sneak Peek Into “A Brief History of Capitalism”
All babies are born naked, but soon after some are dressed in expensive clothes bought at the best boutiques while the majority wear rags. Once they’ve grown a little older, some get annoyed every time relatives and godparents bring them yet more clothes, since they would prefer other gifts, such as the latest iPhone, while others dream of the day when they might be able to head to school without holes in their shoes.
This is the kind of inequality that defines our world. From a young age you seemed aware of it, even though it was not part of your everyday life, because, truth be told, the school we send you to isn’t attended by children condemned to lives of deprivation or violence – as the overwhelming majority of the world’s children are. More recently you asked me, ‘Why so much inequality, Dad? Is humanity that stupid?’ My answer didn’t satisfy you – or me, for that matter. So please let me give it another try, by posing a slightly different question this time.
Why didn’t the Aborigines in Australia invade England?
Living and growing up in Sydney as you do, your schoolteachers have spent many hours and lessons making you and your classmates aware of the hideous injustices perpetrated by ‘white’ Australia on the country’s original inhabitants, the Aborigines; of their splendid culture, which white European colonialists trampled underfoot for over two centuries; and of the conditions of shocking poverty in which they still live as a result of those centuries of violence, theft and humiliation. But did you ever wonder why it was the British who invaded Australia, seizing the Aboriginals’ land just like that, almost wiping them out in the process, and not the other way round? Why didn’t Aboriginal warriors land in Dover, quickly advancing to London, murdering any Englishmen who dared resist, including their queen? I bet not one teacher at your school dared to raise that question.
But it’s an important question, and if we don’t answer it carefully, we risk thoughtlessly accepting either that the Europeans were ultimately smarter and more capable – which was certainly the view of the colonizers at the time – or that the Aboriginal Australians were better and nicer people, which is why they themselves didn’t become brutal colonizers. Even if it were true, this second argument boils down to much the same thing as the first: it says there is just something intrinsically different between white Europeans and Aboriginal Australians, without explaining how or why, and nothing legitimizes crimes like those committed upon the Aborigines, and others, better than arguments of this sort.
These arguments must be silenced if only because they can emerge from within your own mind, tempting you to accept that history’s victims deserved what they got because they were not smart enough.
So the original question, ‘Why so much inequality between peoples?’ blends into another, more sinister question: ‘Is it not simply that some groups of people are smarter and, as a result, more capable than others?’ If this is not the case, why is it you’ve never seen in the streets of Sydney the kind of poverty you encountered on your visit to Thailand?
3 Words to Sum Up This Book
ENGAGING, UNCOMPLICATED, INVENTIVE
Let me preface this review by saying this: I have absolutely no fucking clue about how to write a non-fiction review. It’s as if you’ve throw a fish out of water, that’s pretty much me right now.
While I am not wildly out of my comfort zone, I would say that I would never thought last year when I decided to push myself to read more books outside of the romance genre, that I would be here right now. Panicking about how to whip up a review about a non-fiction book that will be somewhat coherent and not altogether stupid.
With today’s review, keep in mind that I will try and will give it my best shot––as always, but please do be a little bit more lenient if I fail in some aspects. As with things, it will be better with practice and so shall my reviews on non-fiction novels (I hope).
WHAT DOES IT READ LIKE?
To be completely honest with you, I think by choosing A Brief History of Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis as my introduction to non-fiction, I have gotten lucky.
Have you ever heard of the saying that goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
I have never really taken that saying to heart, but it was proven to be true with this book. As soon as I opened up the first page and started reading, the first feeling that I felt was surprise. Surprised that despite the book mentioning that it will be talking about and centering around economy––which I have no clue and/or idea whatsoever––it wasn’t difficult to understand. Even after reading the few paragraphs, I was astonished to see that I understood most if not all of what the author was trying to convey.
It was not condescending, or written to be immensely difficult and filled with big-economic-words. A Brief History of Capitalism was easy to read and to understand. It was exactly that, as if a father was trying to explain––in the most uncomplicated way possible––what economy is.
The writing, while it does not exactly read like a fiction novel, also wasn’t as patronizing or boring as I imagine all educational non-fiction books to be. And with A Brief History of Capitalism being my opening to non fiction books, you best believe that I am now combing through this genre with gusto that I never thought I would have felt before.
ECONOMY AND HOW EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
There are two ways of how this argument could go. One, you could say that economy is not an exact science, and there is truly no need to try to understand it because in truth, nobody really does. Not even the people that we appoint as experts in economy. All that we need to do is to keep on trudging along and save up enough to live our lives. Because lord knows the rich and wealthy doesn’t care for other people’s welfare, they will plunder everything and anything in their way for more profit.
Two, you could say that that is why we have experts on the panel and working in the government. They know what they are doing, the study for it. So there are no reason to really understand economy, because it is too complicated to try to understand. We should leave it in the hands of the experts and keep on trudging along in order to save up money. Because lord knows the rich and wealthy don’t give two farts about us commoners.
“My reason for writing it was the conviction that the economy is too important to leave to the economists.”
To be honest, the latter part is how I used to think as well. And not only about economy, about a lot of things. From philosophy, hard sciences to business. I don’t know since when, but it feels like it’s been indoctrinated in my head since god knows how long. To keep my head down and protect my part of the pie. As small as it is. Don’t ask questions and don’t be curious.
But after reading this book and seeing how everything is interconnected to economy, and now understanding how much it impacts us on our daily lives, I am really glad that I decided to give this book a go. Sure, I might not be able to change the world after I read A Brief History of Capitalism, but at least I now have a slightly better idea about what is going on around me than before.
SMALL TALES AND PHILOSOPHY
Man, now that I am reflecting and thinking back, I actually learn so much more from this book than just the origins of economy. Yanis used a lot of examples and pulling tales from books; such as Frankenstein and Christmas Carol to help get his point across. As a result, it doesn’t only make the book fun and easy to follow, his examples also pushed me to think and expand on my on thoughts and theories.
There are so many classic literatures where Yanis based his examples from and was able to somehow link it with economy. From those stories, Yanis didn’t only made me understand the theories of how economy came to be, but now also sparked my interest in reading more about classic literatures to further understand the correlation between the society back then and now.
“The worst slavery is that of heavily indoctrinated happy morons who adore their chains and cannot wait to thank their masters for the joy of their subservience.”
Truly, you can say that Yanis Varoufakis is not a good economist and I wouldn’t argue you on that because I don’t have enough knowledge to differentiate between who is or isn’t an expert in economy. However, I will fight you if you say the man isn’t a good educator. As I wholeheartedly believe that you can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t able to dumb down the theories and facts so that it could be easily and generally understood by everyone––no matter the age––and Yanis Varoufakis had just done exactly that in A Brief History of Capitalism.
In the book, Yanis mentioned that the only way we could come together and solve our global economic problems is either by commodification or democratization. And he chose democratization, by saying that everyone should have a piece of everything, that way, there will be little to no more poverty and everyone could live in a world where it is not controlled by profit.
While that is a sound idea that I am sure he has pondered for some time, I do not agree that those were the only two choices in solving our global economic problems. It seems like it’s either one extreme or the other, according to Yanis. That got me thinking, what about the in-between? Were there not a way where we could compromise the two? We could finesse our laws to protect public interests against full commodification––meaning private ownership––of what are and should remain public assets.
Of course, the way I see things and how Yanis or other people see it differ depending on our politics and democratic outlook. This is just my two cents after I read about Yanis’ thoughts on the ways to solve our economic issues.
Would I recommend this book? For a beginner like me who knows absolutely nothing about economy, definitely. What I like about A Brief History of Capitalism is the simple and easy way it explains how economy came to be and how our world revolves around it today. I believe this book was written with Yanis’ daughter in mind, who was a teenager at the time he was writing this book. So nothing about A Brief History of Capitalism is too in-depth or in detailed about economy.
Yes, it cover the important parts of how things came to be, but a lot of it were briefly explained and simplified. So if you are someone who has had a lot of knowledge on economy and the inner workings of it, then I do not believe this book would be of any use to you.
While A Brief History of Capitalism has been a great introductory book to economy, and it has undoubtedly sparked discussions and questions that we would not have thought of otherwise, I kind of wished that towards the end Yanis were more concise and clear regarding his thoughts about how we could solve economical inequalities. His solution to it seemed a little bit too glossed over, making the whole book feel more philosophical than something that was supposed to educate and teach.
With that said however, still a great book all in all. A weird feeling, but A Brief History of Capitalism feels like the kind of book I would lend to friends and family to read, even if they have no interest whatsoever in economy. It just feels like there is a lot more that one can learn and take away other than just the economy aspect of it.
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