World Book Day: 10 recommended books about global trade from the IOE and IT team

Thu 2 Mar 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Book in library with paper heart made of pages in the middle

It’s World Book Day today (2 March) – an event celebrated annually in the UK and Ireland on the first Thursday in March.

In celebration of this momentous occasion, staff at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) have been swapping their favourite books about international trade.

Below you can read 10 of the team’s favourite trade books including tomes on customs, wide-spanning historical overviews, fictional page-turners and practical business practice guides.

The Silk Roads: A History of the Great Trading Routes between East and West, by Geordie Torr

“The book describes the beginnings of early trade when the ancient cultures breathed life into these routes, significantly impacting art, culture and technology. By remembering the context of early trade, we can see in these modern times how globalisation and open trade corridors continue to shape nations’ wealth, politics and culture.”

An Nguyen – customs consultant

Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, by Lisa Jardine

“Jardine focuses on the history of the Renaissance from a trade angle. She explores commercial battles from silks to spices, artwork to books and analyses the struggle over who should control the key centres for international trade around the globe.

“She lays out some aspects of trade which seem to have barely changed: the pursuit of discovery for new ways of trading and the continual clashes between industry, political leaders and institutions. As an added bonus, the book is littered with beautiful artwork examples, ancient maps and old trade documents!”

Grace Thompson – public affairs adviser

Trade for Good: The Essential Guide to Business and Finance in UK and International Trade, by Kevin Shakespeare 

“A book I would recommend for individuals working in international trade is ‘Trade for Good’ written by IOE&IT’s very own guru of trade and customs, Mr Kevin Shakespeare.

“The guide explains the importance of finance throughout the trading ecosystem and explains relevant key business practices in clear, jargon-free language. It’s essential reading for exporters new and old, as well as those studying for international trade qualifications.”

Divia Patel Smith – deputy director of strategic projects and international development

Blood & Sugar, by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

“This is an intriguing novel about slavery, sugar and murder, set in the docklands and warehouses of 18th century London. It deals with the darker side of international trade, that of slavery and human trafficking, and recalls a previous time when people were treated like commodities.

“While it confronts some uncomfortable truths about the history of trade, it’s also an engrossing book with a lively collection of characters, and something that stuck with me past the final page.”

Phil Adnett – content editor

Customs and Excise: Trade, Production and Consumption in England 1640-1845, by William J. Ashworth

“As the IOE&IT Academy is currently creating a training programme on UK customs for a major client, we needed to chart the history of customs and excise and came across this fascinating academic tome. 

“As part of a wider history of the English economy, from Stuart to Victorian times, Ashworth traces the growth and pivotal role of customs and excise in the rapid industrialisation of England.

“This period was also the golden era for smuggling. Still of great relevance today is how a shift in customs and excise policy in the 18th century was used by the state as a powerful weapon against illegal trade.”

Vicky Payne – IOE&IT Academy director

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson

“Modern day containerisation was a pivotal point in the evolution of international trade, not just for ocean going freight, but for all exporters and importers. The world suddenly had the ability to move almost any goods from one destination to another – over both water and land – without the need for packing and repacking. 

“The possibilities of economies of scale in transportation made moving goods simpler cheaper and quicker.  An entrepreneurial triumph if ever there was one!”

Karen Holden – trade strategy & projects specialist

Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino 

“Marco Polo is one of history’s great merchant traders and in this magical book by Calvino he is our guide to 55 of the world’s great historic cities. His urban descriptions, which he gives to the emperor Kublai Khan, serve as meditations on many of life’s great themes such as language, time, memory and death.  

“For traders, the stories are great examples of the different worlds you can enter through travelling and trading internationally. For general fiction readers, it’s a magical and poetic read which gradually unfolds as a love letter from Polo – and by extension Calvino – to Venice.” 

William Barns-Graham – executive editor

The Middle East Unveiled, by Donna Marsh

“Not only does this book guide you on the ’do’s and don’ts‘ of behaviour and business practices in the Arab world, it also explains why things are done differently by educating the reader on the Islamic way of life.

“From my perspective, if you understand why things are done the way they are, you are much more likely to grasp the subtle nuances. I am sure this book has not only saved many a western businessperson from making irrevocable mistakes, but has also determined their success in the region.”

Sandra Thornber – customs consultant

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

“This book is an effort to present an alternative viewpoint on world history. The renowned Silk Road is revealed by analysing the region’s impact on other continents. It’s a historic tour, focusing on what was the pressing issue in each historical period, concentrating on the products that were transported, wars connected to the routes and political decisions associated with each one.

“This is a great way to learn about the influence of religion and politics on commerce, the impact of oil in the 20th century and how, in the 21st century, the Silk Road seems to be returning to Central Asia and China.”

Ximena Florian – customs consultant

Managing Cultural Differences, by Neil Remington Abramson and Robert T Moran

“I read this book back in 1997 when doing my international business bachelor’s degree. It is quite an interesting read that highlights the important factors of culture and traditions that can be make-or-break aspect of any international business negotiations. It is always on my desk!”

Sandra Cooper – trade and customs consultant