A brief history of the corporation
Kartik Agaram stashed this in Winner take all.
I've been reading this for a couple of days now. The East India Company was the prototype of the modern corporation, and this article looks at the struggles of society to keep it from getting too powerful: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/06/08/a-brief-history-of-the-corporation-1600-to-2100
My lesson is to go read the books he lists :) It was illuminating to realize the actors weren't 'England' and 'Portugal' and 'Holland' but multi-national corporations nominally based in those countries. But I'm not sure there's a lesson here that directly applies to our time in any sort of actionable way.
 Using national navies (and risking wars!) for protection of company property -- now there's a case of regulatory capture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture
I only just finished reading it. The latter half leaves the East India Company behind and is directly relevant to startup folks.
Cool. Are there any other books he names that you found particularly relevant and/or insightful?