Staples, Markets, and Cultural Change: Selected Essays


506 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1302-7
DDC 330.971




Edited by Daniel Drache
Reviewed by Randall White

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


The Times Literary Supplement in the United Kingdom once called Harold
Innis “Canada’s first and perhaps only genuine intellectual.” And
in the middle of the 1990s Daniel Drache tells us that he “remains far
and away Canada’s most brilliant political economist.” Staples,
Markets, and Cultural Change is the first single-volume selection of
Innis’s writings since the mid-1950s.

Innis began to teach economics at the University of Toronto in the
early 1920s. In 1930 he published The Fur Trade in Canada: An
Introduction to Canadian Economic History, still a classic in Canadian
nonfiction. During the 1940s his research on the Canadian resource
economy broadened into a pioneering exploration of communications in
world history. In 1950 he published Empire and Communications, which
helped inspire the later career of Marshall McLuhan. Shortly before his
untimely death in 1952, Innis became what Drache calls “the first and
last non-American” to be “elected president of the American Economic

In Staples, Markets, and Cultural Change, Drache’s own position as a
late–20th-century Canadian “left nationalist” colors both his long
introduction and his particular selection of Innis essays, in what are
sometimes inappropriate ways. The strength of the book, however, lies in
the “wide-angled view” of “the early, middle, and late Innis”
that it brings together. Like “the great French historian Fernand
Braudel,” Drache aptly enough explains, “[in all his work] Innis
focused on the longue durée, the history of events and epoch-making
forces that transformed economies, states, and civilizations”—in
Canada and in the wider world beyond.

Innis was not a skilled writer in any literary sense, and he is not
always easy to read. The American political scientist Karl Deutsch once
observed that he offers “not so much a neat exposition of finished
work as an experience of thought characterized by depth, vitality and
power.” Innis’s rough-hewn texts of the 1930s, 1940s, and early
1950s nonetheless still have many intriguing and instructive things to
say to the beleaguered Canada of the 1990s. In the midst of our current
troubles they seem like welcome blasts of fresh northern air.


Innis, Harold A., “Staples, Markets, and Cultural Change: Selected Essays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,