Capitalism stands unrivalled as the most enduring economic system of our times. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc the world has become a new stage for capital, and yet despite this dominance capitalism is still not widely understood. It remains a subject of enduring interest that is discovered and rediscovered over time by each successive generation of students. Exploring the life of this world-shaping system and the writings of leading thinkers, this study also now takes into account recent developments, including the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and the complexities of China's political economy. Paul Bowles addresses these key questions: - what are the central, unchanging features of capitalism? - how does capitalism vary from place to place and over time? - does capitalism improve our lives? - is capitalism a system which is 'natural' and 'free'? Or is it unjust and unstable? - what about today's global capitalism? - will capitalism destroy or liberate us? This updated edition of a classic text is now supported by a comprehensive documents section, chronology and who's who, as well as a new colour plate section. It offers a concise, lucid and thought-provoking introduction for undergraduate students or anyone with an interest in this most pervasive, long lasting and adaptable yet crisis-ridden of economic systems.