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Joseph P. Ward's study explores the extensive but largely untapped early modern records of London's trade guilds (known as livery companies). In many respects, his work is intended as a corrective to previous interpretations, which followed a time-honored Enlightenment tradition. These tended to portray the guilds as hidebound, even retrograde institutions, committed to perpetuating urban oligarchies through various arbitrary controls whose ultimate effect was merely to dampen economic development. Ward seeks to deflate this commonplace view by revealing the inner workings of the livery companies and by examining their role in shaping the lives and identities of working Londoners during a period of immense economic and demographic upheaval.