Since the days of Karl Marx and his examination of English industrialization, historians have routinely asked why England, and not France (or Spain)? Instead, we are routinely treated to tales of Spanish socioeconomic backwardness. Just as numerous are the explorations into the writings of Spanish arbitristas who steadfastly, and perhaps misguidedly, believed in and thus repeatedly sought to overcome their nation’s shortcomings from the sixteenth onward. During the past 30 years, these perceptions have become like the pillars of the house of the lords of Gaza. Stanley Stein’s most recent book, Silver Trade and War, does little in the way of playing Samson to bring down this architecture of conventional wisdom.

By all accounts, this work is three decades in the making. I have heard tales of its depth, breadth, and meticulousness since my undergraduate days at Berkeley in the late 1980s,...

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