Pulitzer Prize, History, 2010It is commonly believed that the Great Depression that began in 1929 resulted from a confluence of events beyond any one person's or government's control. In fact, as Liaquat Ahamed reveals, it was the decisions made by a small number of central bankers that were the primary cause of the economic meltdown, the effects of which set the stage for World War II and reverberated for decades.
In Lords of Finance, we meet the neurotic and enigmatic Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, the xenophobic and suspicious Émile Moreau of the Banque de France, the arrogant yet brilliant Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank, and Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, whose facade of energy and drive masked a deeply wounded and overburdened man.
After the First World War, these central bankers attempted to reconstruct the world of international finance. Despite their differences, they were united by a common fear - that the greatest threat to capitalism was inflation - and by a common vision that the solution was to turn back the clock and return the world to the gold standard. For a brief period in the mid-1920s, they appeared to have succeeded. The world's currencies were stabilized, and capital began flowing freely across the globe. But beneath the veneer of boomtown prosperity, cracks started to appear in the financial system. The gold standard that all had believed would provide an umbrella of stability proved to be a straitjacket, and the world economy began that terrible downward spiral known as the Great Depression.
As yet another period of economic turmoil makes headlines today, the Great Depression and the year 1929 remain the benchmark for true financial mayhem. Offering a new understanding of the global nature of financial crises, Lords of Finance is a reminder of the enormous impact that the decisions of central bankers can have, of their fallibility, and of the terrible human consequences that can result when they are wrong.
©2009 Liaquat Ahamed; (P)2009 Tantor
"Ahamed cannot have foreseen how timely his book would be.....Lords of Finance is highly readable - enlivened by vivid biographical detail but soundly based on the literature. That it should appear now, as history threatens to repeat itself, compounds its appeal." (Financial Times)
"Erudite, entertaining macroeconomic history of the lead-up to the Great Depression as seen through the careers of the West's principal bankers....Spellbinding, insightful and, perhaps most important, timely." (Kirkus Reviews)
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
Too many history books give short shrift to the role of finances on the course of history. This book fills in a major plot hole about what went on between the two world wars. Ahamed does a great job of giving us a play-by-play of how the major central banks attempted to respond to events, including a clear picture of how the decision making process was affected by individual personalities and legacy dogma from the past. I wish the author had interspersed more of his analysis with the main text instead of saving it for the end. Ahamed builds a strong case that the gold standard was a key factor leading to dysfunctional decisions. As far as building a case that these bankers bungled their jobs, he would do better if he could come up with decisions that would have led to a better outcome. As it is, he shows people boxed in by circumstances beyond their control. In most of the situations he goes over, it appears they made the best choice available to them, and that in itself makes for a compelling if tragic story.
In fact, I wish more time had been spent on analysis overall. An economics book targeted at the mainstream audience should at least spend more time explaining about the balance of payments, and about how the trading in government securities affects trade in the private sector. But these are relatively minor complaints.
Stephen Hoye is not my favorite narrator. He has one of those superior sounding voices that imply he knows what he's talking about. I understand some people find that reassuring. If hearing someone read a book on economics and referring to "John Maynard KEENZ" all the way through doesn't bother you, then maybe you won't mind Mr. Hoye's narration. I found the British accent annoying, as he used the same one for every British person in the story, from Churchill to Keynes. Yet the other nationalities were either very mild or nonexistent as far as accents go.
This a great book. It tells the tale of the four major financial powers in the beginning of the 20th century: America, Germany, France, and Great Britain. It starts in the pre World War I years and carries through to the end of World War II, covering one of the most dramatic periods in financial history, the Great Depression. The book's premise is that the Great Depression was the result of the mismanagement of the world economy by the central bankers of the four powers, which seemed plausible in my layman's perspective. The performance is very good and compliments the story nicely. I highly recommend it.
This is the kind of styles I like in my reviews: good pace, cerebral, well-documented, meaty, mind-bending.
I admit it, I delayed reading the book; the Great Depression of the 30s and its preambles is a fascinating period but the inner workings of the Central banks seems the most boring place to watch history.
Not so! Ahamed makes a convincing case that a few people, namely the four heads of the major central banks, were central in the grand orchestra of the Great Depression. Their errors, perhaps a mix of poor economic training, selfishness and obstinacy, led to real consequences, prompting the world toward what would be the greatest disaster in human history.
You will find here a detailed account of the consequences of Britain joining the gold standard, France's policy toward gold hoarding, the well-intentioned but ultimately destructive support by the Fed toward European cheap credit and, lastly, the lacking attempts as everything unravels to take power away from these men.. too little too late.
There is one point where the author, apparently not an economist, appears overly naive and out of context. The book is about the errors of a few men in powers, but in places, the admiration for the economist John Maynard Keynes becomes blinding to the extent that it misrepresents both current attitude toward his theories or, even, at the time, whether his ideas would have worked his place. In a gratuitous manner, the book ridicules I. Fischer not on theoretical grounds but on silly comments he made, or completely fails to note that Keynes' work, falsely presented as the panacea that protected us from crises, collapsed during the decade of the 70s.
The book shines as a epic economic history of the times, not as a guide for future policy.
Intrigue found in this book is both malleable and insightful. I learned a lot about history that I otherwise would have never known, and it was enjoyable.
Hjalmar Schacht. I did not know who he was, nor did I know that he played such a close role to the infamous Nazi party leading up to WWII. It is always good to read (listen to) history, especially of this era. It's exciting to find a figure who is close to the fray, and he is also in this gray area between good and evil - as most of the central banker characters were. They operated in a highly charged ethical and moral environment where decisions mattered almost minute by minute in some scenarios.
A few times I laughed, especially those eureka moments when you realize the history in actuality might be different than the history in pill-form taught to children.
I read it due to an interest in central banking after reading Alexander Hamilton's biography. I would recommend it to any who may just enjoy history in general without a special interest in financial history; however, it can be overbearing with financial details and culture which tended to be more boring than anything else.
For sometime I have wanted to understand what brought about the great depression, so I thought this book might explain it to me. I'm neither an economist nor a historian, but I am interested in the topic. I found the book less than helpful in this regard. The author spends a lot of time touching on what must seem to him as entertaining trivia, but I found it frustrating. The author seems to assume familiarity with both economics and history to be able to provide the context. I had to laugh at the end of the book when the author tells the reader that the purpose of the book was to summarize the influence of the four main characters - I had no clue who the four main characters were, and when he finally named them, I wasn't sure who one of them was.
All in all I wish I had not wasted the time or money on the book.
This book was long , but never boring. Packed with a wealth of information, it listens well. The book sounds as if it were written for this narrator. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject of global finance in the 1920's.
Perhaps I did not give it much of a chance but this audiobook pretty much put me to sleep. It goes through the very personal background of the characters. Too much detail I believe. I was expecting the author to start discussing the character's favorite color.
I am sure it is a good book and others will surely enjoy it. Maybe I should have bought the abridged version.
I am a documentary film producer from Los Angeles.
The 20ties and the 30ties were often avoided by historians. Finally I found an author that really reveals the misguided policies of the "Peace of Versailles". Polices that lead to the great depression and the second world war... A must read.
So other reviewers have done a pretty good job explaining things, I just wanted to add one point that was not 100% clear to me as I read their reviews, namely: Is this book a hack job? The answer is no. That is, there are a lot of crazy people out there with their own pet theories about what caused the depression or how fractional reserve banking is all a conspiracy of the illuminati or how the only way to fix what ails the economy is to reinstate the gold standard. This is not at all one of those books. It's a well-written, scholarly (but very readable/listenable) history of the role central bankers played in bringing on the Great Depression. But don't just take my word for it, take Ben Bernanke's. (My one pet peeve: though Ahamed doesn't precisely take a stand on the issue, he's pretty sympathetic to the dominant view that war reparations against Germany were excessive and should have been written down to a great extent. My own view is that the reparations were if anything only moderately excessive, and that the allies erred in continuing to waffle on the issue for years, convincing Germans like Schacht that they could finagle their way out of paying. But, as I said, mine is the heterodox view on this particular point, and Ahamed doesn't come down hard one way or the other.)
It was quite long. Each character was exhaustively introduce which was a bit tedious at times but which subsequently helped the reader to understand how the thinking of each fed into the whole. So, a long book but worth the time to listen to. Really showed how complex the relationships were and are between all of the economies of the world. Eerily similar to 2008 showing how easy it would have been to have had a second great depression.
The explanation of how the economics works. How DOES a nation "fall out of the gold standard?" This book explains it in simple terms that anyone can understand.
How interconnected the world economy really is and always has been. While we talk about "globalism" today as if it is something new, this book shows that, even in the early 1900s, everything was connected even then...
Worth the time to go thru it if you want to understand what happened in 2008 and want to be able to understand what people like Ron Paul are talking about when they speak of "hard money". Will really give you a basis to make up your own mind...
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