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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, History, 2010

It 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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Toru
  • Olympia, WA, USA
  • 11-27-09

interesting insight into interwar period!

longish, but engaging historical narrative! related to you through mini-biographies of the main players of the time. easy to understand too, although due to its approach to the story (economics/finance), you might have to rewind sometimes to get the more technical aspects of his sweeping narrative. but highly recommended if you're looking to learn a thing or two about the Great Depression and some perspective on its connections to our current global economic crisis.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • IRP
  • Falmouth, ME United States
  • 02-20-10

Extremely Interesting Book

As has been discussed in prior reviews, this book focuses on the Great Depression and the events leading up to it beginning with the pre World War One period. While any of book of this sort will focus on economics, this one portrays the events through the biographies of the four central bankers of England (Montagu Norman), France (Emile Moreau), US (Benajmin Strong)and Germany (Hjalmar Schact) as well as other individuals who participated in the spectacle (John Maynard Keynes). The author does a great job in sketching portraits of each man. The book is extremely well written and read and merits the acclaim that it has received (Financial Times Award among others). What I found to be extremely interesting is the eiplogue in which the author takes the thesis of the book and tries to compare and contrast it to more recent events (such as the financial crisis in Mexico in the early 1990's followed by the Russian and Emerging Markets fiasco in the late 1990's and even the financial crisis in 2008) and how the modern era central bankers took affirmative action to avoid a replay of the Great Depression.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jon
  • San Francisco, CA, USA
  • 04-21-10

Great Narration

I thought this was a very well researched book, and it gives an interesting picture of what was going on with the global economy, mostly starting with WWI and leading up into the great depression. It's main focus is on the gold standard.

I was really impressed by the narrator of this book - he really understood the material, and was able to do the accents of different characters in the book without making it too obtrusive. It's a long book but I think it could have seemed even longer without a good narrator. It was done very well.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Geraldine
  • Palmdale, CA, United States
  • 03-12-10

A Financial Reflection

This book was very informative as well as enjoyable. It was interesting to see how four major countries (and their financial bankers) brought the world to their financial knees during the Great Depression. I could identify because there are parallels to what is happening today. I was compelled to keep listening. After I read Ben Bernake's comments in Time Magazine regarding the book's merit,I appreciated its value even more. This is an informative account of the characters who played major roles in the Great Depression told within a historical perspective. A great read.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Meep
  • Seattle
  • 05-08-10

Wonderful

This book is brilliant. It makes its vast scope coherent, explains the complex issues involved clearly, retains detail and personal interest to make the story riveting from both a macro and micro level. The reader has the two most important attributes of a reader-his voice does not grate and HE KNOWS HIS MATERIAL. Can not recommend this book too highly.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • peter
  • Pound Ridge, NY United States
  • 12-10-10

Turning Hemp into Silk

I had never heard of this author but this is quite an achievement. To read every minute of 4 central bankers' meetings over several decades must require intense discipline; to turn that into a readable, fascinating and clearly written book is a rare talent. How many of us can find Federal Reserve Bank Chairmen and Governors of the Bank of England remotely attractive characters? The true life stories of these people bring their personalities and characters into colored relief. This book is a treatise on Monetary Economics at the same time.

The reader is good, even if his tendency to linger lovingly on the last syllable can become tiresome during a long session. I'd have given 4 1/2 Stars, reserving the '5 Star' accolade for a book yet to be read!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A must read if interested in financial history

This is a great book for understanding the history and workings of markets and central banks. It is not a light listen but if you pay attention, you will gain an understanding of how government central banks can influence modern economies and markets. This book helps to explain how the reactions of the central bankers of the US, Britain, France and Germany to the economic challenges faced at the end of WWI led to financial chaos which made possible the rise of radical elements in Germany. The author does this by going into extensive detail of each of the central bankers. This makes the story much more personable and a bit less esoteric--no small feat when considering the topic.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Don R.
  • Cambridge, MA
  • 09-24-10

an economic "memento mori" - wondrous educational

Four bankers whom time forgot, each damaged in a unique manner, together reflecting the conventional wisdom of the day and a token smattering of unruly disorder: the book tells the story of the Depression, the interwar period, and the desperate efforts of a small gang of men determined to do well by their countries with what tools economics then made available.

Lords of Finance should be mandatory reading for those bewitched by the wisdom of any era, a humbling testament to celebrity worship of "great, wise old men" - who bumbling, groping, did the best they can in a complex world. The heady economic analysis paints the precise uncertainties with which they grappled, while the human victories and tragedies convey a fair sense of the men doing the grappling.

Schacht, arrogant and disgraced, emerges as a financial wizard from the broom closet to rescue Germany from hyperinflation (or to claim credit for so doing). Strong, plucked from an auspicious morning trade route to work to the heights of power, then crushed. Norman, painted as eccentric by his incapacity for public performance. And Moreau, saddled with a corrupt mentor, striving to buy time for a France no longer capable of challenging the world. Each played his part in the ensemble, and Ahamed makes a good case for their relevance - but this story of humanized economics as lived, mistakes as realized, and mixed foresight and blindness serves today's readers well - not as a warning about any specific failing, but as a humbling exercise - a "memento mori" for modernity.

Highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Great book marred by poor performance

Ahmed's book offers a lot to those interested in pre-depression economics. Unfortunately the audio version suffers from a terrible reading. I found the reader's habit of reading quotes from British characters in a generalized "British" accent irritating and his particularly poor pronunciation of French names and place names distracting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Interesting book - annoying narrator

This is a very interesting and well written book. Basically, a very useful and fairly detailed narrative of the International Financial History of, roughly, 1919 to 1933, with a short sketch of what came afterwards. I think the author is a little too orthodox in his economics for my taste, but that did not in any way abstract from the usefulesness or enjoyment of this book for me. However, the narrator was extremely annoying with his inability to pronounce the names of some major characters in economics. The surname of the economist JM Keynes is pronounced "Kay - ns" not "Keens" as the narrator kept mispronouncing it. The surname of Walter Bagehot, whose 19th century book "Lombard Street" is considered a classic and is certainly familiar to anyone who knows the least bit about central banking (precisely the target audience of this book) is pronounced "budget" not "Bag-hot" as the narrator, incredibly, and stupidly, kept mispronouncing it. Granted, the pronunciation of these two names is not obvious, but it's not that difficult to check before starting reading. I need not even mention the catastrophic and (to anyone who understands German) fairly annoying way the narrator mispronounced German terms (of which there are quite a few peppered around the book). Sometimes it got to the point that it was impossible for German speakers to understand which German term was read! Awful, tell the man to check pronunciation the next time he does a book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful