For about 900 years, from 1000 to 1900, cotton was the world's most important manufacturing industry. It remains a vast business - if all the cotton bales produced in 2013 had been stacked on top of each other they would have made a somewhat unstable tower 40,000 miles high. Sven Beckert's superb new book is a history of the overwhelming role played by cotton in dictating the shape of our world. For centuries it was central to India's prosperity - a prosperity that was devastated by Britain's imperial takeover of the industry. It formed the core of Britain and Europe's industrial revolution. It revived and modernized slavery in the American South. Essential to billions of people and easily transported, cotton made fortunes, changed geographies and was crucial to modern capitalism and globalization. Empire of Cotton is both a gripping narrative and a brilliant case history of how the world works.