Does British business have a history?

The proofs for a book out in April, The People’s Car: A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle by Bernhard Rieger, have landed here in Enlightenment Towers. It looks terrific, although I’ll put off reading it until a bit closer to publication date.

The People’s Car: A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle: A Global History of the Volkswagen Bettle

I do like a business history but can’t think of all that many on British firms. No doubt that’s my ignorance, and people will have lots of suggestions. But the only one that comes to mind this morning is A Computer called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the world’s first office computer by Georgina Ferry (partly because I was chatting to a friend about it). Geoffrey Owen did a splendid overview of post-war British industry a few years ago in From Empire to Europe. I can think of one or two other more general books, like Andrew and Melanie Kelly’s Take Flight, which combines business and regional history.

There are loads of books on American computer and internet pioneers – we didn’t have many of those in the UK although by beloved husband Rory Cellan-Jones wrote about the millennial dot com boom in the UK in Dot Bomb: The Rise and Fall of Dot Com Britain.

American business historians have a rich tradition beyond the tech sector – Alfred Chandler forged the way with his The Visible Hand, albeit covering more than one firm in that masterwork. (The Economist obit of Chandler describes him as: “the man who more or less invented the history of the big corporation.”) Daniel Yergin has written definitely about the oil industry in The Prize and the more recent The Quest on energy security. I can even think of a number on German firms – like this VW book and also Harold James’s recent Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm.

Help me out on the history of British business giants! Surely there are histories of BP, Rolls Royce, John Lewis, the Pru?

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