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.
The more they stay the same.
Fascinating book which reminds us that disastrous consequences often arise from best laid plans.
Greed and hubris were as much at play in the interwar period as they are today.
A great book for history buffs.
A highly informative history of monetary policy and economics in the period around World War One through the Great Depression. Focusing on the key players involved in policy in the U.S., England, France and Germany.
I was very pleased with the documentation and history of this book. This is a great view into the change from gold backed monetary theory to the beginnings of worldwide faith backed currency and the decisions that were made.
Don K in Alaska
I learned a great deal about the men who handled the controls of world finance through the Roaring 20's into the Great Depression.
For those who think such matters are simple, this book should correct their misunderstanding. It followed nicely on my old Economics, Money & Banking classes in the late '60s.
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: 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.
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