Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground
Harvard University Press 2014
New Books in EconomicsNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network January 19, 2015 ROXANNE PANCHASI
Michael Kwass‘s new book, Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground is much more than an exciting biography of the notorious eighteenth-century smuggler whose name remains legendary in contemporary France. Focusing on the rise and fall of a mythic, early-modern French bandit, Kwass’s study moves between the micro- and the macro-historical, revealing the crucial role that smuggling played in a French economic and political landscape that must be understood in global perspective. The book shows how the underground economy that emerged during the ancien regime developed in close relationship to the trade practices and regulation attempts of the French state. The opposite was also true. State efforts to regulate trade in tobacco and calico from the reign of Louis XIV onwards contributed to the development of illicit activity and networks, and the desire to quash the economic underground, in turn, provoked changes in economic policy, legislation, and perceptions of the need for reform in the years leading up to the French Revolution.
Revisiting the history of the “consumer revolution” of the eighteenth century, Contraband draws our attention to the violence and struggle that accompanied the proliferation of goods and markets associated with “modernity.” In our interview, Michael underlines his aim to write a history inspired by, and in conversation with, more recent events and debates about “the dark side of globalization”. This makes the book a must-read for anyone interested in the longer-term history of the forms of contraband, regulation, and resistance that shape the economic, political, and cultural networks (both legal and illicit) of the present on a global scale.