©1954 John Kenneth Galbraith; (P)1992 Recorded Books, LLC
"Veteran narrator Nelson Runger captures the author's subtle humor and sarcasm well ... His energy and pacing carry the listener along in this detailed work." - Booklist
I laughed, I cried, I gnashed my teeth. The best book on our current financial crisis was written in the 1960s. Galbraith is a Keynesian, but more pertinently an "institutional" economist in the great American tradition of Veblen. As such, his work is abhorred by market fundamentalists, and, alas, largely dismissed on technical grounds by modern day liberals like Krugman. Yet his reading of the Crash and Great Depression stands up today as few economics texts could. To paraphrase: Higher worker productivity and flat wages mean huge gains for the capitalist class. This produces overinvestment and overproduction unmatched by rising general consumption (so much for Say's Law), along with huge accumulations of global capital and a consequent orgy of speculation. The rich simply have too much money to deal with it rationally. Soon the rich and everybody else are riding fantastic stock bubbles that serve to disguise the wage disparity. Sound familiar? But it is the telling that is really worth the price. A wise and sardonic observer of human frailty, Galbraith is a pleasure to read, as when he describes one head of the stock market as "such a spectacularly unsuccessful businessman that his outright thefts were almost incidental." It is likewise hilarious to hear again and again in 1929 the refrain that "the fundamentals are sound," taking the words right out of Bush's mouth. More than ever this is an illuminating book. And essential reading now that the hardcore Reaganites are trying furiously to rewrite the history of the Depression, as well as the history of the last 20 years. Galbraith wrote this long before our current crisis, while the Chicago School and supply side conservatives were still touting the perfection of free markets and mastery of the business cycle.
The more people who read Galbraith, the less likely we will be to heed CNBC market thugs or elect the useful idiots of market fundamentalism.
I love Nelson Runger's voice and I own as many of his narrations as I can find. Now, for the book. I enjoyed this from the first time I heard it many years ago. I still enjoy it, especially when we go through yet another financial crisis. Greed will keep us from learning the lessons of history. A not-verbatim saying from the book: "American Socialism is when the corporate jets land at Dulles." Sound familiar? We are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It should be no surprise when what goes up will come down with a crash. Wall St. danced, now the rest of the world pays. Ooh, how many more cliches can I work in here? In a nutshell, this is history. Hindsight is always more accurate than foresight. You don't have to agree with the author's opinions, political or economic. Economics has always be an opinion science, not an exact science. Also, I recommend "Only Yesterday" by Frederick Lewis Allen and read by Grover Gardner. His book is an entertaining review of American cultural history from 1919-1929. Galbraith quotes Lewis faithfully.
I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.
I found this book very thorough and easy to understand, even for someone with no background in economics. The author explains things like buying on margin clearly and makes the sequence of events in the stock market crash seem logical and not too technical. Because that part is easy to understand, the wider economic implications discussed at the end of the book that were a little more technical were also easy to follow. I also appreciated that the book covered the human impact - it briefly describes several important people, sympathetic and not, and covers things like Ponzi schemes, embezzlement scandals, and con jobs that were a part of the world before and shortly after the crash, the descriptions of some of which are funny, a nice reprieve in a history book that is by necessity generally sombre. The book does a good job of describing the culture of the times and the realities - not the myths, like the hundreds of stockbrokers throwing themselves from windows - of the lead-up and the immediate aftermath of the crisis. The foreword of the book, written after the crash in the 80s, is also interesting from a 2013 perspective because it describes another economic downturn's similarities and differences with 1929 as a contemporary observer. The 2013 perspective also allows the reader to make comparisons to the 2008 economic downturn - something I found really interesting to do which was at times downright spooky, like when the author discusses the Florida real estate crisis that preceded the 1929 crash.
That said, the book was more informative than engaging. I wanted to learn about the crash, so I found it interesting, but I can't say it was the most interesting history book I've ever read, and I enjoy dense history books. I didn't want that to affect my rating too much, however, because I can tell that some of what made the book less engaging to me was the academic style characteristic of 1950s and 1960s historical writing that I've encountered in other books from that period - more recent history books tend to be more narrative. That isn't the fault of the author, just a reminder that the book was written nearly 60 years ago, and honestly the book has aged extremely well - the author was capable of giving a perspective that has endured, an impressive feat for any historian.
I did not enjoy the narration. Mispronounced words were an issue and it just didn't fit particularly well. It was robotic and pretty generic, like how anyone on Earth could read a book. Having listened to some great narrators of historical writing, I found this narration enraging at times for its mediocrity.
Overall, it is a very good explanation of the events preceding the crash, during the crash, and (very briefly) immediately after the crash. It was informative and easy to follow for someone not familiar with detailed economic terminology and theory, but the narration was frustrating and the style is sort of detached and academic, which can make some parts (though definitely not all) a little dry. Its greatest surprises are the insights into the human impact of the crash and how accessible it is to the average reader without seeming condescending or simplistic. The reasonable length also makes it easy to absorb as a whole and keeps it from getting bogged down in minute-by-minute accounts, leaving you with a clear understanding of the historical events in context and the messages about the impact on future events. I found it enlightening and it is a book a wide variety of people could learn from and enjoy.
The storytelling narrative makes this book a great listen. It also provides a significant amount of context surrounding the 1929 crash. A
A must read/listen for anyone studying the market or the economy to understand that history repeats itself. Galbraith's words still ring true today.
History and economics appeal to me so the selection of this book was a natural. Friedman's book "The World is Flat" and Arieley's book "Predictably Irrational" were most enjoyable. This book, however was not. Perhaps it is the language of a well respected academic that made understanding the material something that required more concentration than I could master as I drove the winding roads of rural West Virginia. On the whole, quite undigestable... boring.
while the historical information in this book was very interesting - and why I bought the book - the political pushing is irritating. The author is for massive taxation as a way to prevent people from having too much money to invest which creates "excessive speculation" if you can believe such a thing. God forbid you should be allowed to have capital to invest in business.
Semi retired small business person/ college professor/ investor.
I read this book to see what could be applied from the 29 crash to the present one. It is too early to tell how close the parallels will track. One place where Galbraith was clearly wrong was that regulatory controls could prevent such a thing. Today we have even more controls than he suggests in the book and still crash. I enjoyed the history though I remain unconvinced that socialism breeds prosperity. If you take the political comments with a grain of salt and concentrate the history, it gives food for thought in our present circumstances.
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