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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Avid reader of classics and fiction, history and well-written genre novels. Music lover and huge audiobook fan.
This is a terrific book, very timely and amazingly relevant for anyone with any interest in the world of finance, monetary policy, or international economics. Readers should be warned that it is slow going for even the best readers, but it is not an academic text and once you get into it it is hard to stop listening. It is really a book about the four major central bankers of the interwar era and it is not a treatise about the evils of finance. The central dilemma of the book is actually the debt generated by WWI and the return to the gold standard and its economic consequences for Europe and the United States. It is a great illustration of the need to study and understand economic history in order to understand our world.
My biggest problem getting involved with the book was that it is so dense i needed to keep going back to the beginning to keep track of the different stories and personages. I am a very good reader but I must have restarted the book on three separate occasions....it is not a light read.
That said, once I did get involved I could not put the book down and following it became a good deal easier. I highly recommend sticking it as it is so timely and relevant to the issues of our day.
Lastly, I rated the performance only four stars despite Stephen Hoye's talent as a reader for a very complex text. His narration in many ways is one of the attractions of the book, which could have been read very badly or at the wrong speed or without understanding of concepts of economics and monetary policy that would have made listening impossible. My problem was that throughout the book he uses a very bad British accent when speaking the words of a British personage and inconsistently uses a slight German accent for the German banker. This is not a novel with dialogue. Not only does this affectation not serve the text, it actually detracts from the reading and disturbed the flow of the narration. Luckily he doesn't put on a French accent for the Frenchmen but the whole accent thing was badly done and totally unneeded. Otherwise the performance was excellent.
The subject has been very well researched by the author and the book goes into detail about all the points that are brought up. I really enjoyed the detail on the subject, but the detail may be a bit much for people who are not interested in monetary economics and banking.
This book is basically a history textbook, a few chapters of a macroeconomics textbook, and 4 biographies rolled into 1.
It spends more time talking about politics and the outward appearances of the characters rather than getting to the punchline. It's very long and long winded.
The book covers 1914 to 1944. It goes through and attempts to link together the policies, events, and mistakes throughout the time frame. It covers WW2, Gold Standard, etc.
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.
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