This huge tome of five-plus essays, each one a book in its own right, is, among other things, a repetitive, brilliant, petulant, illuminating, flawed rejection of Simiand, Hamilton, the Chaunus, and those who have subsequently agreed with them. It will be much cited and seldom read thoroughly, indeed it has already been cited for things it does not say, a lack of care and attention which leads to some aggrieved stamping of his literary feet by Morineau himself.

There are many themes. There is a reexamination of Brazilian gold exports to Europe, essentially an eighteenth-century phenomenon, which establishes a new series of totals, and a new periodization for the advances and retreats (by export region) for this trade. Morineau also attacks the concept, already much weakened by historians of interior New Spain and elsewhere in the Spanish colonies, that the history of exports from Spanish America in the eighteenth century was one of steady growth. Instead he sketches a new periodization of growth and decline which takes into account such features as European warfare, piracy, and the emergence of new European export industries. The tone here is calm and measured. He finds few devils lurking behind the former accepted version, and so can demolish it with clarity and equanimity. His argument and data are of significance to those interested in both the internal and the export economies of eighteenth-century Spanish America.

The third set of findings contains the ones closest to Morineau’s heart, and those which most arouse his ire and partisanship. He believes that several generations of scholars, beginning with Simiand and advancing generationally through LeFèvre, Hamilton, the Chaunus, and latter-day apostles such as LeRoy Ladurie and Bennassar, have conspired to ignore the pioneering old testament of Alphonse Girard and the new revelations of Jan Everaart and Michel Morineau. These false prophets—such is indeed Morineau’s tone at times—had created the illusion that history could be viewed as a series of long economic phases—in Simiand’s parlance, phases A and B—and to support this chimera had fabricated among other errors a nonexistent seventeenth-century depression. To exorcise these demons, Morineau sets out to destroy the data series published by Hamilton and the Chaunus. The depression in Atlantic bullion trade is reduced in at least one passage to five or six years, ending in 1658, and thereafter, according to Morineau, there is a huge boom in silver exports which lasts until the death of Charles the Bewitched and the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession.

Most of this new thesis is based on data painstakingly gathered from long series on fleet contents and total values found in Dutch economic gazettes and French consular reports, sent from Seville and Cádiz to various towns in Holland and France, especially Amsterdam. These new sources are obviously of great value and yield essential information on a period of Atlantic history which is indeed, as Morineau asserts, littered with too little serious research and too many thoughtlessly accepted generalizations.

But he goes too far. He attributes too much accuracy to the Dutch gazettes, excellent sources though they are. Especially between 1660 and 1720 they present only well-educated guesses. Moreover, his own educated guesses, many arrived at by ingenious, complicated reasoning, are too informed by his passions. When he factors in fraud and contraband, for example, he assumes and argues that they were comparatively low in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, but very high in the middle decades of the seventeenth. This is approximately the truth perhaps, but exaggerated, and illustrative of the dangers possible when the historian’s educated guesses follow too closely what he hopes to demonstrate.

Morineau also lacks information on the local and general Spanish American context, the context which produced and shipped all that silver. His estimates of the Tierra Firme fleets of 1654, 1661, 1663, and 1679, for example, are all too large according to American information on such matters as falsified coinage, failed Portobelo fairs, and totals loaded at Panama (all too detailed to discuss here); and to revise downward the total shipment of bullion on these four fleets is to alter drastically Morineau’s figures for the quinquenia 1651-55, 1661-65, and 1676-80. It leaves us, in fact, with a modified but significant downturn in silver exports to the Old World, running from the late 1630s to the 1680s.

Morineau has much of value to impart. He cautions with intricate, solid reasoning against an emphasis on mining output, precious metals, and coinage, as indicators of economic life and health. He damages many generalizations about trade and conditions of trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, offering a much more nuanced picture heavily influenced by political and agrarian phenomena. He brings the Brazilian gold boom into larger and more accurate focus, for both Brazilian and European history. He unravels the very doubtful link which both Hamilton and the Chaunus made between total ships’ tonnage and capacity on the one hand, and the quantity and value of the goods carried on the other. He explains the economic role of accumulated stocks of bullion and coinage in a given region, how much their specific uses determine their economic impact, and how these stocks can continue to accumulate and be transformed into capital even in difficult times. Only when his passions lead him to scathing rejections of all past work by certain authors must the reader beware of critical flaws.