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Publisher's Summary

The tumultuous era and remarkable personalities that unexpectedly birthed the Federal Reserve, from renowned financial writer Roger Lowenstein

Until the election of Woodrow Wilson the United States - alone among developed nations - lacked a central bank. Ever since the Revolutionary War, Americans had desperately feared the consequences of centralizing the nation's finances under government control. However, in the aftermath of a disastrous financial panic, Congress was persuaded - by a confluence of populist unrest, widespread mistrust of bankers, ideological divisions, and secretive lobbying - to approve the landmark 1913 Federal Reserve Act.

Writing in a rich and untapped historical vein, Roger Lowenstein - acclaimed financial journalist and best-selling author of When Genius Failed and The End of Wall Street - reveals the drama-filled, unlikely story of how America created the Federal Reserve, thereby taking its first steps onto the world stage as a global financial power. America's Bank showcases Lowenstein at his very finest: illuminating complex financial and political issues with striking clarity, infusing the debates of our past with all the gripping immediacy of today, and painting unforgettable portraits of Gilded Age bankers, presidents, and politicians.

With America's Bank, Lowenstein focuses on the four men at the heart of the drama to create the Federal Reserve. These are Paul Warburg, a refined, German-born financier, recently relocated to New York, who was horrified at America's primitive finances; Rhode Island's Nelson W. Aldrich, the reigning power broker in the US Senate and an archetypal Gilded Age legislator; Carter Glass, the ambitious but little-known Virginia congressman who chaired the House Banking and Currency Committee at a crucial moment of political transition; and, of course, President Woodrow Wilson....

©2015 Roger Lowenstein (P)2015 Penguin Audio

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 11-02-15

Important and Intriguing

I heard Lowenstein on the New York Times book review podcast and it sounded interesting. I had just finished “Courage to Act” by Ben S. Bernanke and this book seem to fit right into the topic.

The book starts in 1787 and follows the topic of the need for a Federal Bank. Alexander Hamilton fought for a central bank but many opposed a strong federal government. Lowenstein goes into detail about President Wilson and his fight for the Federal Reserve and how they passed the “Federal Reserve Act of 1913.”

This is a story of politics, disagreements, decisions, including crises that culminated in the Federal Reserve Act. Lowenstein’s account of the financial crises before the establishment of the Fed powerfully demonstrates that it is imperative for the Federal Reserve System to maintain its effectiveness and independence from politics. The author gives us striking portraits of key figures well known and unknown, involved in the creation of the central bank.
The book is well written and well researched. The author writes in an engaging manner that makes dry material interesting.

There are currently a number of reforms being proposed in Congress that would undermine the effectiveness and independence of the Federal Reserve. This is a must read book to fully understand the history and all the issues involved, so one can understand the critical nature of the proposed changes to the Federal Reserve Act. Robertson Dean did a good job narrating the book. The book was not too long at nine and half hours.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Marianne
  • PETERSHAM, MASSACHUSETTS, United States
  • 12-06-15

Fascinating

What did you love best about America's Bank?

A riveting account of an important institution

What was one of the most memorable moments of America's Bank?

jeykell Island

Which character – as performed by Robertson Dean – was your favorite?

Warburg

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, too much information

Any additional comments?

The history of the Federal reserve shows that America is stilling having the arguments it had in the days of its founding. Nothing has changed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 11-01-15

Just technical and just popular enough

I think Roger Lowenstein has done us a great service with this sober telling of the story. This is one of those segments of history that is complex enough to allow its exploitation by all sorts of crackpots who cherry-pick the story, and until now it has been difficult to respond, due to the lack of a reasonably popular-level book walking through it all. I found the detail, length and editing just right. This book also features brief descriptions of various Fed operations that are understandable. By comparison, I read 'Act of Congress' by Robert G. Kaiser about the Dodd-Frank legislation, and found the latter plodding and not illuminating the personalities or deeper concepts or surrounding history nearly as well as this book does. This book clearly and briskly lights up important events from the Civil War to the 1930s, though it definitely focuses on the first 15 years of the 20th century. And at last Paul Warburg gets his due! I felt here as if I was at the side of many of the characters at their most critical moments, from the conception of the law through its emergence in all the shifting politics of the era. I am astounded that any reasonable legislation comes out of Congress at all, then or now, given the tugging personalities, but stepping back, that is often "a feature, not a bug." There is a fine portrayal of Woodrow Wilson also, and his times. I generally like Robertson Dean as a narrator, but here, I thought his style was a bit flat, meshing with this particular book. But it was certainly competent and acceptable.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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A good account, but easy on the "epic"

A good account of a part of US and world financial history that I didn't know well. Good portraits of Aldridge, Warburg, Andrew, Davidson, Glass, Untermeier, Wilson. A little weaker on Strong and McAdoo, but then again they became more prominent later. Recommendable.

But easy on the Lowenstein-esque attempts at drama. This was a historic bill, no doubt, and there were odds against it, but exaggeration can become hard to bear.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Epic

An epic. Thing that can make history of banking law interesting and readable is pretty amazing.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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It works

Who was your favorite character and why?

There is no character you morons!!!!!!!!!!

What three words best describe Robertson Dean’s voice?

Boring, wish that Roger Lowenstein would have been the narrator

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Would make a dull movie

Any additional comments?

Good material, explained and presented well. Stressed the political motivations a little too much in my opinion

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Steven
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA, United States
  • 06-20-16

Overated book about the creation of the Fed

The book is way overrated. 1st off I don't find Lowenstein a great writer. - he's mediocre. If he were writing fiction his books wouldn't sell. 2nd- The book would have been better if it dealt with a complete history of the Fed, By spending all his time writing about the creation, he skipped many interesting histories of the Fed- i.e. - how did the Fed react to the great depression? - was it a cause? how about when Paul Volker raised interest rates to double digit levels - some rates were 18% if my memory serves me well. 3rd - why should I care about every little thing that happened with the politicians who created the Fed - who cares? it's like the old joke - "just show me the baby"-most folks don't want to hear about the labor pains. The book would have been better if he dealt with the arguments put forward by those who want to change or abolish the Fed.- i.e. - how has the Fed served the public past, present , and future.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Just wow!

This has the information of a textbook but reads like a novel. I could not put it down and was hooked from the first chapter. It was great hearing all the personality quirks and ambitions of America's elite 100 years ago and it helps better understand the history of our national psyche.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Living history

Just finished
Loved it
Puts history and modern times into perspective
If you are interested in America, read this book

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book. Just lacks technical information.

This is a well written / narrated book and gives great insight into why and how the Fed was created.
The book just lacks deeper technical information around the Fed and goes into more of the personalities of the people behind the creation.
Overall great book.