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Accounting for Capitalism

The World the Clerk Made

Michael Zakim

Accounting for Capitalism

Michael Zakim

272 pages | 26 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226977973 Published April 2018
E-book $10.00 to $50.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226545899 Published April 2018
The clerk attended his desk and counter at the intersection of two great themes of modern historical experience: the development of a market economy and of a society governed from below. Who better illustrates the daily practice and production of this modernity than someone of no particular account assigned with overseeing all the new buying and selling? In Accounting for Capitalism, Michael Zakim has written their story, a social history of capital that seeks to explain how the “bottom line” became a synonym for truth in an age shorn of absolutes, grafted onto our very sense of reason and trust.

This is a big story, told through an ostensibly marginal event: the birth of a class of “merchant clerks” in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The personal trajectory of these young men from farm to metropolis, homestead to boarding house, and, most significantly, from growing things to selling them exemplified the enormous social effort required to domesticate the profit motive and turn it into the practical foundation of civic life. As Zakim reveals in his highly original study, there was nothing natural or preordained about the stunning ascendance of this capitalism and its radical transformation of the relationship between “Man and Mammon.” 
 
Contents
Acknowledgments
 
Introduction:  The Clerk Problem 
1 Paperwork
2 Market Society
3 Self-Making Men
4 Desk Diseases
5 Counting Persons, Counting Profits
Conclusion: White Collar
 
Notes
Index
Review Quotes
Sven Beckert, Harvard University
“In this exhilarating study, Zakim introduces us to a most unlikely set of heroes: business clerks. Dedicating their lives to the paper machine, this vanguard made the market, as the market made them. They forged an eerily modern world in which life under the aegis of capital became an unremarkable and deeply consequential pillar of our civilization. This book establishes Zakim as one of our most perceptive interpreters of capitalism.”
Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University
“Zakim is at the top of his form in Accounting for Capitalism. His fascinating and engrossing analysis of the discursive world-making of the nineteenth-century clerk will no doubt stir debates among all sorts of readers. It will surely inspire a more engaged and productive conversation between cultural and intellectual historians and economic sociologists and ethnographers. Even after the current interest in nineteenth-century Bartlebys passes, readers will still want to revisit ‘the world the clerk made.’ Accounting for Capitalism is news that stays news.”
Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago
“Michael Zakim is among the most creative historians at work today on any subject. Accounting for Capitalism is one of a kind. Here is a uniquely rich history of life inside the market, among the men who made it, and who in the process made themselves. No other book tells the history of capitalism and individualism in America with such verve, intelligence, and insight.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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