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Publisher's Summary

An economic horror story: The complete meltdown of a major modern country’s financial system, and its disastrous effects on every aspect of society.

A hundred years ago, many theorists believed - just as they did at the beginning of our 21st century - that the world had reached a state of economic perfection, a never-before-seen human interdependence that would lead to universal growth and prosperity. Then, as now, the German mark was one of the most trusted currencies in the world. Yet the early years of the Weimar Republic in Germany witnessed the most calamitous meltdown of a developed economy in modern times. The Downfall of Money will tell anew the dramatic story of the hyperinflation that saw the mark - worth 4.2 to the dollar in 1914 - plunge until it traded at over 4 trillion to 1 by the autumn of 1923.

The story of the Weimar Republic’s financial crisis clearly resonates today, when the world is again anxious about what money is, what it means, and how we can judge if its value is true. It is a trajectory of events uncomfortably relevant for our own uncertain world. Frederick Taylor - one of the leading historians of Germany writing today - explores the causes of the crisis and what the collapse meant to ordinary people and traces its connection to the dark decades that followed. Drawing on a wide range of sources and accessibly presenting vast amounts of research, The Downfall of Money is a timely and chilling exploration of a haunting episode in history.

©2013 Frederick Taylor (P)2013 Audible Inc.

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  • Lance
  • Maryland, United States
  • 09-21-15

Highly recommended story of German hyperinflation

I have also read and recommended "When Money Dies" by Alex Fergusson, but this one provides more context about the political and social happenings at the time of the hyperinflation. When Money Dies really brings home the bewilderment of an average German, while this book takes a broader view. I recommend both of them, although I would say they each have their pros and cons with readers looking for an account of an average German better off with “When Money Dies” and those looking for a broader political and sociological accounting better off with this book.

Be aware that both books have a lot of information much of it somewhat repetitive without delving into the realm of economics to put much needed context to the story. I don't know why the authors didn't delve into economic theory/analysis, but would guess the data is not available and/or hard to estimate. Another valid reason for not delving into the economics is focus. Personally if I had to change the scope of this book I would have liked to hear more linkages between the hyperinflation and rise of the Hitler. The author touches on these broader issues towards the end of the book, but it is a bit of a stretch to say the topic was “covered” to any extent. After that I would say I would want more economic context.

But don’t be scared off. The book is very interesting and I learned much that I did not understand after reading “When Money Dies”. I would say this is foundational reading to anyone looking to understand, analyze, and begin to understand what lessons the German hyperinflation may hold for our times (if any). If you’re into German history, hyperinflation, socialism/capitalism/democracy issues, and/or post world war structural analyses, I’d say this is required reading for building an actionable base of knowledge. Hope you enjoy it as I did.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 07-15-17

Chilling. God forbid it should happen to us.

This telling has a very on-the-ground and in-the-trenches, close-up feel of the doings and lives of Germans at all levels of society when their currency came undone. The effects on psyches and lives was devastating, and of course that devastation was projected outward as channeled by the Nazis, wobbling from inflation through depression into World War 2. It is a cold and sullen sort of story, punctuated with violence. Many characters seem conscientious people dragged by circumstance and a sense of duty into very unpleasant attempts to keep the whole parade of society functioning. Many of these got an early decline or even a bullet as their reward.
In USA, we had our bout with inflation in the 1970s, and I remember the disturbing qualities of those times, but nothing was even close to this. Americans now have been chastened by a time of relative deflation, but let us not say, "it can't happen here," as a rationale for voting ourselves too seemingly generous a regime of payouts that, in making its (cheap) promises and then actualizing them in paper, takes us all too far toward this sort of cliff's edge. To my friends who want everything "free" from government: there is no free. If there is lunch, somebody has to pay for it. Somebody has to produce, to make that real. And such payment, deferred through a dwindling currency ultimately can be, and has been, as catastrophic as in this story: taking the world to the edge.
What scenario do I foresee here? Let's imagine the government issues some sort of scrip (paper or simply numbers) as currency "free" to everyone. Does it not occur to the hopeful payees that, as happened in Germany here, producers would find a way to flee that "currency" and to barter outside it? Will people take worthless paper for produce? In other worlds, it is not simply CALLING something money that makes it effective as money; it must have "moneyness" which is the consent of everyone to trade in it for real things. If that consent is withheld, as will happen if such currency is too-generously issued, i.e., "debased," people will find other ways and things to trade (especially with the Internet so handy), and that mass-issued "currency" will be worth what it became here: something to wallpaper one's house with or use as toilet paper, at best. I pray we keep finding our way on this middle path. We have done pretty well.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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PROBLEMATIC HISTORY

Lessons drawn from history are problematic. It is difficult to convince anyone that circumstances of the past are enough like the present to predict the future. First, there is the difficulty of an author’s selection and interpretation of facts. Second, there is the complexity of historical events. Third, and maybe most problematic, a reader/listener will have their own interpretation of an author’s meaning.

"The Downfall of Money" reflects on Germany’s rise, fall, and rise again, before, during, and after WWI and WWII. Frederick Taylor, the author, offers a British historian’s eye-view of the role money plays in Germany’s 20th century life. Taylor ascends to the clouds and then drops to the ground to view German’ military and economic events; i.e. from the clouds Taylor views Germany’s WWI and WWII leadership; from the ground, he views the stressed lives of German’ citizens.

Germany’s recovery from WWII is credible evidence of the importance of how monetary policy effects economic recovery. Rather than a Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, the allied powers (particularly the United States) adopt monetary policies after WWII that focus on rebuilding national economies rather than punishing losers of a war. Today’s leaders will draw their own conclusions about monetary policy for today’s world from Taylor’s history of "The Downfall of Money".

1 of 2 people found this review helpful