Potosi : The Silver City That Changed the World

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"For anyone who wants to learn about the rise and decline of Potosi as a city . . . Lane's book is the ideal place to begin."-The New York Review of Books

In 1545, a native Andean prospector hit pay dirt on a desolate red mountain in highland Bolivia. There followed the world's greatest silver bonanza, making the Cerro Rico or "Rich Hill" and the Imperial Villa of Potosi instant legends, famous from Istanbul to Beijing. The Cerro Rico alone provided over half of the world's silver for a century, and even in decline, it remained the single richest source on earth.

Potosi is the first interpretive history of the fabled mining city's rise and fall. It tells the story of global economic transformation and the environmental and social impact of rampant colonial exploitation from Potosi's startling emergence in the 16th century to its collapse in the 19th. Throughout, Kris Lane's invigorating narrative offers rare details of this thriving city and its promise of prosperity. A new world of native workers, market women, African slaves, and other ordinary residents who lived alongside the elite merchants, refinery owners, wealthy widows, and crown officials, emerge in lively, riveting stories from the original sources. An engrossing depiction of excess and devastation, Potosi reveals the relentless human tradition in boom times and bust.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 25mm | 635g
  • Berkerley, United States
  • English
  • 25 bw photos, 5 maps, 4 line a
  • 0520280849
  • 9780520280847
  • 498,238

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"Potosí is the stuff of myth and the fuel of enormous global changes. With wonderful quotes and poetic, evocative language, Kris Lane's historical writing is outstanding."--Steven Topik, editor of The Second Conquest of Latin America

"I can think of no person better suited to write this wondrous story."--Tatiana Seijas, coauthor of Spanish Dollars and Sister Republics

"From the leading authority on mining, Potosí combines a strong narrative voice with deft use of primary sources to demystify how global flows of silver shaped world economic history."--Zephyr Frank, author of Reading Rio de Janeiro

"When we think of mineral bonanzas, we think of the gold rushes of the 1800s in California, South Africa, and the Klondike. But arguably the discovery of a mountain full of silver at Potosí, in today's Bolivia, centuries earlier, had far more impact on history. Kris Lane tells the full, fascinating story, from the mixture of churches, brothels, riches, and slavery in a 16th century boom town to Potosí's reverberations throughout the Spanish Empire and the world."--Adam Hochschild, author of Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays

"We overlook too often the primary reasons that explain the socio-economic phenomena we analyze, or denounce. Kris Lane's Potosí Silver City That Changed the World is an interdisciplinary analysis of the modes of previous accumulation of capital not only related to Europe but on a global scale. This work helps us understand the global context that led progressively, from the sixteenth century, to the industrial revolution. The financial engineering, industrial innovation, scientific discoveries and political will that underlie the first major mining site in Bolivia find their counterparts in the brutal exploitation of workers, social injustice, public health crisis, and, already, ecological negligence. Foremost, in addition to analysis that contribute greatly to the history and critique of political economy, the author focuses on cultural and domestic considerations and on an interdisciplinary point of view, which are not usual in this research field."--Alain Deneault, coauthor of Imperial Canada Inc: Legal Haven of Choice for the World's Mining Industries

"Like the boom town it describes, Kris Lane's book teems with life and glints with riches. Potosí is a unique urban case-study, which helps us understand how Spain´s global monarchy worked. It contributes vividly to the history of technology. It tells stories of labor, and race. It illuminates the global economy through which the silver of Potosí trickled and rippled. Above all, it is an irresistible portrait of life, work, passion, sanctity, crime, pleasure, misery, madcap consumption, and ecological disaster in 'an improbable global city' that started as 'a rough-and-tumble mining camp' and became 'the envy of kings.'"--Felipe Fernández-Armesto, author of Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States
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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1 * Bonanza
2 * Age of Wind, Age of Iron
3 * The Viceroy's Great Machine
4 * An Improbable Global City
5 * Secret Judgments of God
6 * Decadence and Rebirth
7 * From Revival to Revolution
8 * Summing Up
Epilogue: Potosi since Independence

Appendix: Voices
Bibliographical Essay
Select Bibliography
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Review Text

In 1545, a native Andean prospector hit pay dirt on a desolate red mountain in highland Bolivia....
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Review quote

"Rollicking is not a term normally applied to books from an academic press, and it is perhaps an exaggeration, but only a slight one, to use it here. Lane includes technical, mineralogical, chemical, historical and other background, but his focus is on the stories, la comedie humaine, that played out in Potosi during the two and three-quarter centuries between the discovery of silver and Simon Bolivar's declaration of independence delivered from the Cerro Rico's peak." * Asian Review of Books * "Lane builds his analysis from fragments: notarial records and other archival documents that are both amazingly rich and rather ill-suited to crafting a narrative driven by particular individuals or families. . . . by dividing each chapter into a handful of very short sections (some no more than a page long), he gives readers a sense of how historical research feels and leaves it to us to piece a fuller story together." * Times Literary Supplement * "Covering the period from the discovery of silver until 1825, he uses personal stories gleaned from original sources to produce a rich and lively account that shows how elite merchants, officials and mine owners rubbed shoulders with African slaves, native residents and migrants. . . . As this beautifully written book shows, the costs and benefits of globalisation are not confined to their historical moment." * History Today * "...Lane deserves credit not only for assembling so much old and new information into a convenient form, but also for reminding us that cities have a life of their own, regardless of their national or transnational importance. . . . As he writes in his preface, the aim of his book is to 'balance the local and the global by treating Potosi-city and mountain, mines and countryside-as an example of early modern global urbanism and extraction in action.' In this he succeeds admirably." * New York Review of Books *
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About Kris Lane

Kris Lane holds the France V. Scholes Chair in Colonial Latin American History at Tulane University. He is author of Colour of Paradise: The Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires, Quito 1599: City and Colony in Transition, and Pillaging the Empire: Global Piracy on the High Seas, 1500-1750.
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Rating details

7 ratings
4.14 out of 5 stars
5 14% (1)
4 86% (6)
3 0% (0)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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