Brief book review: Merchant of Grain

About a year ago I bought Merchants of Grain and never got around to reading it - in fact, I lost track and had to order another copy when I decided to read it over Thanksgiving. Here's my brief take on its pros and cons:

  • In many ways this is analogous to The Prize, Daniel Yergin's outstanding history of oil, thoroughly tracing modern grain trading from its inception in the early 19th century to the present day.

  • Depth of research - the amount of information crammed into the 360 pages is truly impressive, most of it quite relevant and interesting, and his journalistic nose clearly enabled him to get to the bottom of some very complex stories and illuminate the characters involved and the very human dynamics of their interaction.
  • Morgan is not a deep subject matter expert like Yergin, and it shows in his analysis. He does a fine job explaining the technical aspects of growing and trading staple crops, but in many instances his subjective assessment of situations seems off to me.

  • He also writes with a vaguely accusatory tone that I find irritating and not constructive - e.g. when complaining that the global grain traders have more market information than the U.S. government, or that the global grain trade lacks transnational regulation. What do you propose instead - a benevolent supernational trade regulator?

  • Writing is not great - the narrative is jumbled, and the prose itself is sometimes unnecessarily wordy or awkward.

  • Out of date - it was first published in 1979, and has barely been updated since (the re-publishers have a trite note on the back that "little has changed' since the initial publication, but developments over the past 3 decades surely merit a similar treatment).
Overall, recommended as a history of the grain trade, but only because it appears to be the best available - I wouldn't give it top marks in the absolute sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment