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The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order | [Benn Steil]

The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order

When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for "a new Bretton Woods" to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of 44 nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization.
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Publisher's Summary

When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for "a new Bretton Woods" to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of 44 nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil's epic account.

Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival. At the heart of the drama were the antipodal characters of John Maynard Keynes, the renowned and revolutionary British economist, and Harry Dexter White, the dogged, self-made American technocrat. Bringing to bear new and striking archival evidence, Steil offers the most compelling portrait yet of the complex and controversial figure of White - the architect of the dollar's privileged place in the Bretton Woods monetary system, who also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years.

A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.

©2013 Benn Steil (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  •  
    James Ruther Glen, VA, United States 05-29-13
    James Ruther Glen, VA, United States 05-29-13 Member Since 2006

    I love history and enjoy reading different books about the past. I like to joke that I have read many books about the outcome at Gettysburg, but no matter how many I read the outcome remains the same! I do find it interesting and fascinating to get different takes and outlooks on the same events.

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    "Fascinating!"
    If you could sum up The Battle of Bretton Woods in three words, what would they be?

    Personality, talent, and guile clearly come to mind for me. These were two extraordinary men faced with the difficult challenges of their time.


    What other book might you compare The Battle of Bretton Woods to and why?

    I find this book unique in that Ben Steil does such a wonderful job of analyzing the two men and their impacts. Then he takes it a significant step further as he measures that impact through the years. Analysis of history and personalities is one thing, but the application of that thorough and detailed analysis through the succeeding years is a remarkable and extraordinary. I have seen the technique used before, but in this case I found it rich and rewarding!


    Which character – as performed by Philip Rose – was your favorite?

    I would have to focus on John Maynard Keynes as my favorite. I have always viewed him as a significant but somewhat obscure economic genius. To see this extraordinary talent presented and explained in such rich detail raises the man much higher on my pedestal, and I now can clearly see why his name remains a focus, even today. While I was very impressed with Harry White and his own remarkable talents as an economist, I got the feeling that he lapsed into the role of the government technocrat which reduced the shine of his own brilliance.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    At times I laughed at the comments and actions of the two central characters. Harry White's involvement with subversive Communists did leave me blue, and Keynes death at 62 was a major and sad tragedy in my eyes. Even White's death at an early age due to heart attack was a tragedy as I feel it was at least in part brought on by the huge pressure of his mistakes and associations.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a wonderful, insightful, and well presented documentary of an event and the people involved which finally recognizes the major impact of that event. Bretton Woods was a historic watershed event of its time. The prime characters were at times giants among other men. This is a must read book!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neil Washington, DC, United States 04-23-13
    Neil Washington, DC, United States 04-23-13
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    "Is this a mystery, a history or an economics book?"
    What made the experience of listening to The Battle of Bretton Woods the most enjoyable?

    I liked all three books in one. If you want to know what the gold bugs, Federal Reserve, economists and the currency warriors are thinking read this book. Reality is stranger than life. The American seeking financial discipline at Bretton was a Russian spy. The Englishman seeking a phony money currency to bail out indebted nations was John Maynard Keynes. The same scenario plays out today: austerity or. funny money or a mix. Inflation or deflation, that's part of the mystery we all all living with. But to really get it, you have to know a little history. Terrific narration too.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Henry St. Albert, AB, Canada 10-19-13
    Henry St. Albert, AB, Canada 10-19-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Excellent material: not always a easy listen"
    What made the experience of listening to The Battle of Bretton Woods the most enjoyable?

    Materiel and information is comprehensive and very well conveyed to listener.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    The diplomacy and politics underlying the multi-country negotiations and the negotiators personalities.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    There are numerous interesting scenarios.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Various aspects about Dr. J M Keynes.


    Any additional comments?

    Captivating information. Very worthwhile listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Yardley, PA, United States 10-16-13
    Paul Yardley, PA, United States 10-16-13 Member Since 2003
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    "Dry history"
    Would you try another book from Benn Steil and/or Philip Rose?

    This book was OK but the narrator was staccato and hard to listen to. The book could have focused more on Bretton Woods and not skip around chronologically.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Philip Rose?

    Anybody


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ronald Brown Florham Park, NJ USA 08-08-13
    Ronald Brown Florham Park, NJ USA 08-08-13

    rboffp

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    "Can't see the Forest for the Trees"
    What would have made The Battle of Bretton Woods better?

    More focus on big picture - less on details.


    Any additional comments?

    This book provides a lot of details on the Bretton Woods conference. In particular it focuses on the two main players: Harry Dexter White of the US and John Maynard Keynes of England. Much time is spent on whether White was a communist. There are memo-by-memo recountings of the formulations of US and British positions. I am sure the work is extremely well researched, but just too much detail on the events for me.

    I was more interested in the impact of the conference and how the two creations from the conference (IMF, Word Bank) function. How do currency exchanges work was a more interesting question than whether White was a communist.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Jason
    CAPE TOWNQ, South Africa
    6/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Gripping and dull"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    To a friend with a keen interest in economics, yes. As a good read, no.
    Lacking any formal education in economics, much of the book went straight over my head. That much said, the bits I did get were frequently very interesting. It was often very technical, and the technical elements presupposed that the reader understood the basic concepts. That is more a failing on the part of this reader than the writer, but other readers should maybe understand that a solid grounding in economics would be advantageous before venturing forth into this book.


    What does Philip Rose bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    Whilst I enjoyed Rose's delivery, I actually did wish I had a hard copy I could easily flip backwards and forwards through, to try and get my head around some of the more tricky technical aspects.


    If this book were a film would you go see it?

    No.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mr. Acapella
    Cornwall, UK
    1/11/14
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    "Excellent book but not for the general reader"

    The premise and structure of this book is excellent. And the author is an excellent writer with an eye for detil and clear expression. Enjoyed the opening chapters. But now, half way through, am reluctantly giving up.

    As usual with economics books the author doesnt hit the right pitch of understanding for the general, but interested reader. And this book is too much about economics for that not too matter.

    Come on you economists, you have got to explain things in a bit more detail, without condescending to your audience. I believe this author could certainly achieve this and I hope he goes on to fill a much needed niche in this field, ie. economic history made interesting for the general reader.

    Who this book would better serve might be a college economics student who wants to read a full and very eloquent account of the people and politics of the Bretton Woods negotiations.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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