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From Silk to Silicon Summary

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From Silk to Silicon SummaryThe Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives

You may think that globalization is a fairly new phenomenon. However, it started centuries ago. And so as to remind us of this Jeffrey E. Garten retells the stories of ten extraordinary people in his 2016 bestseller “From Silk to Silicon.”

About Jeffrey E. Garten

Jeffrey E. GartenJeffrey E. Garten is Yale School of Management’s Dean Emeritus, after serving as its dean during the decade between 1996 and 2005. He has worked on Wall Street as managing director of Blackstone Group and Lehman Brothers and has served in Nixon, Carter, Ford and Clinton administrations.

He has written six books, mostly concerned with global politics and economy.

“From Silk to Silicon Summary”

As defined by Wikipedia, globalization “is the trend of increasing interaction between people on a worldwide scale due to advances in transportation and communication technology, nominally beginning with the steamship and the telegraph in the early to mid-1800s.”

Jeffrey E. Garten would beg to differ: globalization, according to him, started few centuries before that, with a certain Temüjin.

You know him by his Westernized name: Genghis Khan.

Well, Genghis Khan was the 1st Khagan of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in history. And make no mistake: he didn’t manage to create such an empire without being one of the most brutal men in history.

However, he’s also the man who made globalization possible. Because of four reasons. First of all, because he controlled a fifth of the world. Secondly, because he didn’t want to deal with religious upheavals, and so he guaranteed religious freedom to everyone, thus creating a melting-pot atmosphere.

Thirdly, because he believed in meritocracy, education, and economic interactions. And, finally, because he made the Silk Road what it was: the first globalized trading network.

The second man on our list was, nominally, far less brutal than Genghis Khan; however, he had much more brutal influence on the subsequent history of the world.

That man is the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator, who initiated the Age of Discovery which will culminate with Columbus arriving in America. However, he also discovered the benefits of exploiting Africans.

“On the morning of August 8, 1444,” writes Garten, “the first cargo of 235 Africans, taken from what is now Senegal, were delivered to the Portuguese port of Lagos. Historians say this is when modern slavery began.”

Millions followed, and soon business empires were created worldwide on the shoulders of slaves. The biggest one – in all of history, in fact! – was the East India Company.

During its prime, it was so big that it was simply known as The Company. It practically ruled India employing an army of over 260,000 members at one point – twice the size of the British army itself. The man mostly responsible for this: Robert Clive.

The fourth man on our list is Mayer Amschel Rothschild – whose surname needs no introduction. He was ranked seventh by “Forbes” on its list of “The Twenty Most Influential Businessmen of All Time” in 2005 – because, basically, he changed modern banking.

Wikipedia’s definition of globalization makes Cyrus West Field basically its originator. Because, well, he was the man who laid the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. Communication was revolutionized and the world became much smaller.

That paved the way for oil monopolies and controversial businessmen as John D. Rockefeller; his empire, “Standard Oil”, got so big that it had to be broken down by the US government in 1911.

While “Standard Oil” was destroying its competition in the U.S., Jean Monnet, on the other side of the Atlantic, was busy imagining the single market of the European Union. Which finally resulted in one of the most important unions in history.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t believe in unions, but in free market wars. So, she started them on a daily basis – with everybody who was against her. Her legacy is controversial – but so is the one of almost every other person on this list.

Take, for example, Deng Xiaoping, the ninth man on our list. He provoked a debate when he introduced some aspects of the free market philosophy in the Chinese communist society; but, after a while, that resulted in what we now call “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” And in China becoming a global superpower.

Andrew Grove is the final man Garten chooses to analyze as a globalization pioneer. You may not know his name, but you certainly know his creation.

We’ll let it speak for itself: the Silicon Valley.

Key Lessons from “From Silk to Silicon”

1.      Globalization Started with Genghis Khan
2.      Globalization Is All About Telegraphs and Union Ideas
3.      Globalization Has Meant Tyranny, Slavery and Monopolies as Well

Globalization Started with Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan was a brutal military leader who killed millions of people. However, in the opinion of Jeffrey E. Garten, he’s also the earliest of the ten most important globalization pioneers.


Because he put the interests of economy and trade first and religion and ideology last. And, because he built and improved the Silk Road on this basis.

Globalization Is All About Telegraphs and Union Ideas

Globalization wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for few important discoveries and the individuals who made them possible. For example, once Cyrus West Field managed to lay down the transatlantic telegraph cable between Europe and North America the trade connections between those countries were revolutionized.

And the European Union made the economy of Europe flourish; but this wouldn’t have happened in the absence of a certain Jean Monnet.

Globalization Has Meant Tyranny, Slavery and Monopolies as Well

However, globalization has come at a price.

Genghis Khan was a tyrant, but his negative influence on world’s history was nothing compared to the one of Prince Henry the Navigator. Because he is the man with whom modern slavery began – which made affluent monopolies such as the East India Company or the Oil Standard possible.

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“From Silk to Silicon” Quotes

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see – which I interpret to mean that looking way back into the past provides much better perspective into the enduring patterns of history. Click To Tweet it was the British Empire that, in tandem with the American democratic capitalist system, created the global economy as we know it, based as it is on consumer-driven markets, rule of law, and the ideal of free and open societies. Click To Tweet Indifferent to controlling matters of religion or culture, the Mongols focused on building commerce and the physical, administrative, and legal infrastructure to help it flow freely. Click To Tweet Globalization is about connecting on multiple levels and breaking down many of the walls that separate populations of various origins, customs, and beliefs. Click To Tweet Even the magic of the wireless Internet rests on a solid foundation of wire cables, just like the magic of the telegraph. Click To Tweet

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