Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power
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Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  424 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon capture...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published October 25th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published October 1st 2004)
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Zach
If you're looking for a book on the history of American economics, then look no further. John Steele Gordon takes two subjects that don't exactly arouse the most excitement in people--economics and history--and creates an informative, page-turning collaboration on United States economic history dating back to colonial times. Mr. Gordon gives us an insightful look into the economics of the colonial era, how the nation's fiscal structure was established following the Revolutionary War, the effects...more
Meg
I found this book to be very informative. I'm really not good with the whole 'What percentage of what equals what' stuff on the stock market. But this book really didn't go into that - it was very conceptual. As such I feel as though I understand the general ideas behind what goes on much more than I ever did before. If you want to learn about the financial systems of the world without getting lost in exchange rates and whatnot, this is a great book to start with.

My boyfriend told me that this...more
Miles
A good quick overview of the economic history and development of the United States. Beginning with the colonial days and early enterprises to the breaking of the millennium, this easy read introduces the reader to the hows and whys of what made the American economy what it is today. Although very optimistic about the history of the stock market and the economy in general, this book at least does give a good argument for an open capitalist and free market system. Along with the reader's knowledge...more
Pang
I really enjoyed the book. It was an easy read, though it took me a long time to finish it because of my school obligations. The book gave good general overview of how the U.S. came to be the hegemon that it had, starting from the colonial time. I found it quite gripping... the boom and bust periods resonated our current financial situation. This included people who had visions and great ideas that pushed the market forward.

It wasn't terribly complex, which I didn't think it could be considering...more
Randall Secrest
Sep 11, 2012 Randall Secrest rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Randall by: Mr. Jim Wilkerson
Excellent writing until the final twenty percent, no appreciable mention of Jack Kennedy and the one line mention of the 9-11 tragedy ended the book? Perhaps two books would have been better than one? Otherwise a fine story of a bigger than life country.
John Maniscalco
I only finished half of this book, it was all I could take. Not that there aren't some interesting facts in the book, it is just not what I expected. To be fair, this book is quite ambitious to attempt to cover 400 years of economic history in as many pages and it does do a good job explaining how technology facilitated economic growth (not exactly a great discovery) and how Americans have a particular ability to create develop new technologies and methods that allowed economic growth to progres...more
Andrea
Gordon takes his readers on a whirlwind tour of American economic history, from the very first tobacco farmer of Virginia to the dawn of the Digital Age.
There is simply too much to capture in one review. Some might argue Gordon actually skips over a lot, and fails to provide in-text citations, but as an overview for someone with little economic perspective, it was a great introduction.

The Constitution, the cotton gin, the Erie Canal, the steamboat, the telegraph, the railroad, the automobile a...more
Lee Holz
An Empire of Wealth is a comprehensive but highly readable economic history of the United States from the colonial era through 2001. Its highlight is the penetrating yet balanced and fair analysis of the effects of government policies over that period of time both successes and failures.
It’s too bad the book couldn’t cover the last eleven years. We’ve had the bursting of the real estate bubble created by the federal government’s inane subsidizing of home ownership through the tax code and such m...more
Joseph
As a one-volume economic history of the United States, it is amazing. While there are a few areas I wish he explored in greater depth (the New Deal, the development of arcane financial products) and some areas where he could use greater clarity (the post-"greenback" standardization of currency, the bailiwick of the Federal Reserve Board), the breadth of the book more than makes up for its faults. Of particular genius is his discussion of the early colonial economy, and the pervasive theme of tec...more
bruinmark
Proves economic history can be enjoyable to read in the hands of a talented writer. Filled with interesting facts and asides, and insightful about specific industries (e.g., whale oil and steel). The book has a cheerful boosterism about the U.S. economic system that is somewhat infectious, even if its largely uncritical support for American exceptionalism is somewhat troubling.

In addition, the author's conservatism comes annoyingly to the forefront as the book progresses. Page 395, on the late-7...more
Patrick
Slowly rereading this one. It's interesting since I have read a lot more US history since I first read this, and I enjoy reading the reviews below of people who have very different takes on this one than me. This does rush sometimes, but the overall thesis of innovation and the spread of economic prosperity is very persuasive. I read Gordon's other book, Hamilton's Blessing to get further info on his opinions on taxes, debt, the central bank, and economics in general. These two books have shaped...more
Mitch
Aug 18, 2007 Mitch rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: economics students
I used this book in my economic history book. It doesn't have all the graphs and econometrics that some text books have, but it reads so much better. It is also a lot cheaper than a text book. By using this as the main text, I was able to have the students read several other trade publications.

Students could read the other books (Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Hummel's Enslaving Freemen, and Rothbard's America's Great Depression.) becaus they had all the information quickly and were able to go o...more
Lisa Lawless
This books tells the history of the American economy from the time of the first settlers before this was the United States until 9/11. It's a very fair telling, as far as I know, without political bias. Technological advances, improvements in productivity, wars, world events, and the beginning of US currency and banking systems are all discussed. There are some great trivial facts mentioned such as that the creation of US time zones was to simplify railroad schedules and that the first use of th...more
Christina
A great intro to the American economy. Fast paced and manages to keep your attention the whole way through.
Amber
This book was loaded with information about the economic growth and development of our country. Reading this made me proud to be American and in my view reinforced why our country has the best economic structure to ensure prosperity for her residents. My only concern with this book was that the timeline seemed to jump around too much. A historical storyline would progress and cover a span of a few decades, then jump back several years. This practice threw off the flow of the storyline.
Erik
Still working on it. It's an engaging read. Did you know that the word "dollar" comes from the German word "Thaler" which means "From the valley?" That's cause of the silver deposits found in the valleys of what is now the Czech Republic. Seems to have a slight bit of those "rah-rah, I have a boner for Abe Lincoln" historian romantics. Unless the Freemasons are in charge of it all...this seems to fill in the blanks that we were too dumb in high school for them to teach us.
Sam
The US government was able to become the most powerful organization in history due to the nation’s wealth-creation, so it’s worthwhile to focus on that aspect of history, as this book does. There are a lot of parallels with today: the similarity between the US economy’s rise (using British technology, intellectual property, & capital) in the 19th Century & China’s recently; previous booms, busts, & bailouts; the old empires exhausting themselves through war, etc.
Fiatluxury
I'm stuck 1/3 of the way through this because of school starting again, but so far it's a pretty easy read, a sort of novelized, non-academic piece about the history of exploitation (in a non-judgmental sense of the word) of American ingenuity and luck. But - ha ha! - this was first published in 2004, so I'd be curious to know what kind of prologue would now grace a book subtitled "The Epic History of American Economic Power."
Torbjørn
While doing a good job explaining the development of the American economy up until the mid 19th century, he gets sloppy after that. From the second world war it gets just irritating. Spending lots of time explaining things like how the computer has developed during the last 50 years is nothing but sidetracking when you write as good as nothing about how and why the Asians have influenced the economy among other things.
Joe
Great book on American history told from an economic perspective. Gives interesting insights into how and why many laws, infrastructures, financial systems, etc. came about. Covers about 400 years, so it has a broad view, but flows well and provides fodder for additional areas of interest. As with all history books, the subject matter takes on the tone and bias of the author, which in this case is a positive one.
Anna
Well-written, interesting U.S. economic history. Worth reading for the history, but beware the slant: he's obviously a monetarist with a strong bias towards the Anglo liberal economic model. Lots of emphasis on individuals as the key actors (Carnegie, Rockefellar, Mellon, etc.) who shaped America, rather than ideas, community, society, etc. Also, the last chapter is rushed, politically slanted, and ends abruptly.
Errol

A review of the big breakthroughs and milestones in the US economy from independence to post-WWII. Focus on people and events rather than numbers and dates.

Liked: Story-telling aspect of economic history, livened up a dry subject that could have just been graphs and numbers.

Disliked: Author's bias shown through just a little too much, perhaps should be read with some Zinn for balance :)

Definitelydennis
Fantastic book, very easy to read.

Goes through in simple terms the economic development of the country, and the importance of capitalism to the American character.
Bev
Jul 06, 2012 Bev rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Extremely well written informative book. It tells why the USA has become the wealthiest country in the world, what inventions, government policies worked and didn't work. Freedom is what allowed most ideas to become economically feasible, even ideas born in foreign countries needed to hatch and grow in America. The book us packed with interesting facts and anecdotes.
Anthony
This is one of my favorite books - period. I found it fascinating. Steel was able to take a potentiallly dry and boring subject, the economice history of America, and make it icredibly inereisting and involving. After reading it I felt enlightened and educated. It is a good book to read in the current economic climate as it puts such set backs in perspective.
Robert Byrd
A compelling narrative of the many innovations and governmental policies that have made America's economy what it is today. It has earned a place on my favorites shelf.
Ben Sweezy
Never succeeds in its "American exceptionalism" thesis because it never considers the rest of the world. Most of my criticisms about this book are that it doesn't care enough and it simply repeatedly lacks enough sophistication about its topics. Good general survey? Sure. Explores what "creating wealth" and "economic power" really mean? No.
Damon
Jul 21, 2008 Damon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History buffs, especially those interested in American industry
This book is a history of American businesses, economics, industry leaders, and so on. It is chronological and typically focuses a few pages to a different topic of significance. I thought this was a great book for anyone who is interested in American history and specifically history of American industry and the figures who played a role in it.
Ron Horner
This is one of my all-time favorite history books. Reading about the history and shaping of the United States in economic terms sheds new light on old and familiar topics.

This book made me an instant fan of Gordon, whenever I come across a work by him I snatch it up, and I have yet to be disappointed.
Converse
A very readable history of U. S. economy from colonial times to 9/11/2001 by the lassiez-faire oriented popular historian. His account of the origin of the Great Depression would benefit from considering the monetarist argument that Federal Reserve policy was the cause.
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