A powerful morality tale - Ivar Kreuger's scams are as relevant today as ever, and the reading of financial biography works nicely.
Partnoy peppers his biography with colorful history, as well as the occasional tangent (e.g., where did the term "bucket shop" come from?).
Whereas Ponzi's scheme (and Madoff's variation) are relatively simple pyramids, feasible only when observers opt to maintain their ignorance, Kreuger's methods are far more convoluted, and such methods continue to elude professionals today.
The reading is accessible, the pacing appropriate, and the lessons learned far more useful than those available in most financial/biographical options.
Four bankers whom time forgot, each damaged in a unique manner, together reflecting the conventional wisdom of the day and a token smattering of unruly disorder: the book tells the story of the Depression, the interwar period, and the desperate efforts of a small gang of men determined to do well by their countries with what tools economics then made available.
Lords of Finance should be mandatory reading for those bewitched by the wisdom of any era, a humbling testament to celebrity worship of "great, wise old men" - who bumbling, groping, did the best they can in a complex world. The heady economic analysis paints the precise uncertainties with which they grappled, while the human victories and tragedies convey a fair sense of the men doing the grappling.
Schacht, arrogant and disgraced, emerges as a financial wizard from the broom closet to rescue Germany from hyperinflation (or to claim credit for so doing). Strong, plucked from an auspicious morning trade route to work to the heights of power, then crushed. Norman, painted as eccentric by his incapacity for public performance. And Moreau, saddled with a corrupt mentor, striving to buy time for a France no longer capable of challenging the world. Each played his part in the ensemble, and Ahamed makes a good case for their relevance - but this story of humanized economics as lived, mistakes as realized, and mixed foresight and blindness serves today's readers well - not as a warning about any specific failing, but as a humbling exercise - a "memento mori" for modernity.
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