Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World is a nonfiction book by Liaquat Ahamed about events leading up to and culminating in the Great Depression as told through the personal histories of the heads of the Central Banks of the world’s four major economies at the time: Benjamin Strong Jr. of the New York Federal Reserve, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, Émile Moreau of the Banque de France, and Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank. The text was published on January 22, 2009, by Penguin Press. The book was generally well received by critics and won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for History. Because the book was published in the midst of the financial crisis of 2007–2010, the book subject matter was seen as very relevant to current financial events.
The book discusses the personal histories of the four heads of the Central Banks of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany, and their efforts to steer the world economy from the period during the First World War until the Great Depression. The book also discusses at length the career of the British economist John Maynard Keynes who criticized many of the policies of the heads of the Central Banks during this time.
With penetrating insights for today, this vital history of the world economic collapse of the late 1920s offers unforgettable portraits of the four men whose personal and professional actions as heads of their respective central banks changed the course of the twentieth century
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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 taken 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 façade 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 potent 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.