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The Great Crash of 1929

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,904 Ratings  ·  220 Reviews
Of Galbraith's classic examination of the 1929 financial collapse, the Atlantic Monthly said:"Economic writings are seldom notable for their entertainment value, but this book is. Galbraith's prose has grace and wit, and he distills a good deal of sardonic fun from the whopping errors of the nation's oracles and the wondrous antics of the financial community." Now, with th ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 30th 1997 by Mariner Books (first published 1954)
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Trevor
Apr 24, 2008 Trevor rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, economics
Even though he said that he would eventually get to talk about the causes of the great depression I have to admit that for much of this book I thought we would be just getting a series of increasingly horrible stories about the crash. But this turned out to be an infinitely better book than I anticipated.

There are quotable quotes – “If there must be madness something may be said for having it on a heroic scale”. Or “This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no
...more
Hadrian
Although this book was published almost sixty years ago, and it describes an event over eighty years in the past, it seems only too familiar.

Galbraith describes with clarity and thoroughness the events which preceded the great crash. For example:

-A major real estate bubble. Thousands of speculators were bidding for the chance to set a price on the land, not even the land itself. A Mr. Charles Ponzi was also heavily involved in the buzz, selling dozens of plots of real estate per acre of Florida
...more
Jan-Maat
To regard the people of any time as particularly obtuse seems vaguely improper, and it also establishes a precedent which members of this generation might regret.


The strength of this book is its sharp focus. I read Lords of Finance which covers, broadly speaking, the same topic, but it was one of those fashionably long books that shows the reader plenty of trees, but leaves no sense of the wood. How different Galbraith's book.

The very narrowness and interest in precise details of Galbraith's b
...more
Sagar Jethani
Jan 03, 2011 Sagar Jethani rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finance, history
Saw this at Foyle's in London and thought it would be a nice continuation of Lefevre's "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator" and Krugman's "Return of Depression Economics", which I was in the process of finishing.

Galbraith's account of the Great Crash is gripping, and reads more like the work of a slightly-removed journalist than an economic historian. Discussions about discount rates and public pronouncements are interwoven with samples of other news of the day-- Lindbergh's flight across the Atl
...more
Jeff
Jul 20, 2012 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A few pages of Galbraith's writing reveals the man as a genius. In my fairly limited experience, the only (modern native English) writer with a comparable voice for non-fiction prose was Bertrand Russell.

The book is a reply to the canonical history of the crash, and its relation to the succeeding Depression. Galbraith shows in a handsome variety of ways, how that history contradicts many easily observed facts. A better history is set out in parallel.

Most satisfying is the way in which Galbraith
...more
Tim Pendry
J. K. Galbraith produced his short book on the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 in late 1954 in an atmosphere that still recalled recent witch hunts over communism (a fact that will help an early twenty-first century reader with some of the few obscure political references). The current Penguin edition adds the short Foreword to the 1975 edition that urged 'memory' as a necessary corrective to over-enthusiasm within the financial system. One can only guess what this grand old man of liberal econ ...more
John Gurney
May 08, 2015 John Gurney rated it really liked it
I first read John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash of 1929 in college (or was it high school- so many years ago) and rereading it now, it retains its crisp narration and wittiness. It is not a long book, reflecting that Galbraith concisely covers the build-up to the crash and its aftermath.
Greg Strandberg
Jun 07, 2015 Greg Strandberg rated it liked it
I read half of this book before taking it back to the library. It has some good observations, but I found A Nation in Torment by Edward Ellis to be a better book. I suspect the reason why most talk-up this book and Galbraith in general is that he served in the FDR administration, was educated at Harvard, and takes a Keynsian approach to economics. He'd later serve in the Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations.

The book is short and slanted too much toward the bankers, in my mind. Galbraith
...more
Mark
Feb 18, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it
An account of the stock market crash of 1929, with some very interesting observations about the relationships between finance, government and the media. He also compares that crash with the one in 1987, and the parallels he draws could very easily be applied to the current financial crisis.

Galbraith goes into detail on the financial structure of the investment trusts, the mechanics of financial bubbles and how those bubbles are fated to burst. Although he gets into some technical financial speak
...more
Will
Jan 22, 2010 Will rated it really liked it
"Al Smith was notified, and his sorrow over the death of his friend was not diminished by the knowledge that the news might start a serious run on their bank."

Galbraith's a good writer, and a witty one: this was a good read. There's a lot of schadenfreude to be had, as one Wall Street malefactor after another gets his comeuppance. And a lot of information, as well.

Of course my aim in reading this was to see what similarities there were between the '29 crash and our very own. Turns out there wer
...more
elisabeth
Sep 08, 2011 elisabeth rated it really liked it
Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929 is an easy read and gives historical context to the current financial mess in the U.S. It was first published in 1955 and never manages to get out of print because another financial bubble bursts and people like me look for explanations. Turns out people today are like people from yesterday - they want to make easy money and when banks and the government encourage spendthrift behaviour and reckless speculation, people start to believe that they deserve to be rich ...more
C.
Jan 03, 2009 C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Prof. Galbraith's analysis of the 1929 Crash is thoroughly applicable to the 2008 Crash, at least to my own analysis of the current event. This is truly a gem of institutional economic history. My one quibble is that at the end of the book, where he tends more to prescription, that he places more emphasis on the "speculative mood" than the very real and problematic structures of leverage which make such a "mood" economically reasonable and profitable until the crash.
Ricardo Alves
Oct 10, 2014 Ricardo Alves rated it it was amazing
Crónica do crash bolsista de 1929, que levaria à Grande Depressão, com efeitos devastadores, dento e fora dos Estados Unidos.
Galbraith, que era um académico e um economista sagaz, procedeu a um levantamento historiográfico com o à-vontade dum bom narrador, ainda por cima provido de humor -- o que, num tema árido como este, é feito de monta (não foi em vão que John Kenneth Galbraith se deixou tentar pela ficção).
A mentalidade do especulador é esta: fazer muito dinheiro com pouco trabalho e no mai
...more
Omar Halabieh
Jan 28, 2012 Omar Halabieh rated it it was amazing
As John best summarizes it: "The task of this book, as suggested on an early page, is only to tell what happened in 1929. IT is not to tell whether or when the misfortunes of 1929 will recur. One of the pregnant lessons of that year will by now be plain: it is that very specific and personal misfortune awaits those who presume to believe that the future is revealed to them. Yet, without undue risk, it may be possible to gain from our view of this useful year some insights into the future. We can ...more
Themistocles
J.K. Galbraith writes with much gusto, cynicism and humor. You don't expect those kinds of things from a world-class economist, the more so in a book almost 60 years old! But, there you have it. It's a joy to read and each page, filled with indictment against the stupidity, lust and greed of those riding the wave in '28 and '29, flows easily and naturally.

Mind you, this is probably not a book for those who do not have any understanding of the financial principles involved, but it may well be wor
...more
Lamont Whiteside
Jun 13, 2013 Lamont Whiteside rated it really liked it
In “The Great Crash: 1929” John Kenneth Galbraith wrote on the great depression in a manner very different from regular books discussing the topic of finance. He uses his knowledge of the Great Depression and the Stock Market to explain what happened. Galbraith writes on a period of time where everything seemed, but a dream, to where everything became a nightmare. Americans began to gain too much confidence in the stock market, which essentially destroyed the stock market. Galbraith wrote on how ...more
Alex
May 29, 2011 Alex rated it it was ok
I'd say there are two obvious things you could include in a book about the crash. The first is to detail all the crazy anecdotes about farmers becoming millionaires and people jumping out of Wall Street windows, etc, all that sensationalist stuff. The second is to actually give you an understanding of why the crash happened. Possibly you could have both in the same book. But it felt to me that this book couldn't really decide which of those things it wanted to achieve, and kind of brushed quickl ...more
Wolfgang
Jan 23, 2016 Wolfgang rated it really liked it
An amazing account, well-written and often sarcastically funny, of the stock market crash in 1929.

This book was written in 1955 !!!. There is a new introduction from 1995. Look below at some quotes that illustrate how shockingly and hilariously similar the crash and the political reaction to it was compared to 2008.

What is a bit disappointing about the book that it is a re-count of events but is very light on clear-cut explanations of which economic mechanisms led from crash to depression. But t
...more
Mandi
Jan 23, 2015 Mandi rated it really liked it
Not fully understanding economics and the way the financial sector works, I found this book easy to understand even though some of the language makes it clear it was written in an earlier decade. And by that I mean, it's written conversationally rather than purely academically, yet the way people spoke mid-century is different than it is now, right?

I thought Galbraith covered the topic with enough breadth and depth to do it justice and give a thorough understanding of all the actors in the turn
...more
Matthew
Mar 29, 2014 Matthew rated it really liked it
This book was disturbing and depressing not so much for the history it related but for how much that story paralleled our own recent history. Just changing a few names, dates, and details would be enough to transport this story from the 1920's to the 21st century. A rampant speculative market that played with other people's money leading to moral hazard; toothless oversight with a lack of political will; extreme income disparity; public misunderstanding/indifference; a blind faith coupled with h ...more
Zare
Nov 01, 2013 Zare rated it really liked it
Excellent book - subject is what people are ready to do in order to gain wealth and what happens when everything goes down the drain. I simplify the matter, I agree, but it is strange that exactly the same thing happened not so long ago (just read the section describing the way speculations rise up and cause the entire structure to collapse) - what, nobody read the book? Or did they think it was obsolete?

Highly recommended.
Daniel
Dec 08, 2007 Daniel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all
One of the few books that Galbraith failed to make money on.

But it's well worth reading because as I write this today on the 10th of December 2007, it looks like this housing bubble is going to be UNPECEDENTED in the amount of damage done as it finally bursts.

Bill Keefe
Apr 01, 2015 Bill Keefe rated it liked it
An informative if somewhat cursory look at the Great Depression. Sweeping in scope but not particularly detailed, Galbraith's work lays out the setting, the major themes and, less so, the disastrous effects of the crash. At times, though, he weighs in with opinions that he doesn't back up with much data, and he tends to prefer to recount stories of famous and infamous miscreants than he does to help you better understand the dynamics of the events. Still, it was fascinating to hear him speak of ...more
David
Dec 06, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Galbraith was a hugely popular economist of a liberal, Keynesian persuasion. Writing in the 50's pre Milton Friedman he wrote a quite entertaining albeit rather biased account of the 1929 crash. He has a lot of fun demolishing fellow economists. Nevertheless it's a useful account of the build up to the crash with a speculative bubbles in equities made worse by ridiculously easy credit and dubious financial engineering much like the 2008 US property bubble. The collapse in credit was even worse t ...more
C.J.
Jun 15, 2015 C.J. rated it really liked it
I had been eyeing this book for awhile. I had always wanted to learn more about the causes and effects of the Great Depression and what went down during those times. I hoped that it would give me the insights and perspectives to look at our recent Great Recession. So it was to my much excitement that I started out the book.

Unfortunately, it occurred to me only half way through that this was about the great "crash," not the depression. Fundamentally the books is about the events leading up to th
...more
Sanjay Varma
Oct 13, 2015 Sanjay Varma rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautiful example of mid- 20th century prose. If you liked the editorial style of Lewis Lapham, Alan Abelson, or William Buckley, or if you were stirred by John Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," then this book will thrill you.

But Galbraith also draws careful and circumspect conclusions, which gives this book a timeless quality, as if it could apply to economic catastrophes in any era.

Here is Galbraith describing the use of margin loans to buy stock, which fueled the market's rise: "Everywhere
...more
Louis
Apr 20, 2014 Louis rated it really liked it
John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash, 1929, provides a perspective on the well-known stock market crash. Galbraith includes a case study on various bubbles leading up to the 1929 crash, including the Florida land bubble and the stock market bubble.

One of the more striking features of this book is the lengths people will go to convince themselves that, for whatever reason, they can get rich quickly or that it is “different this time.” Galbraith provides numerous examples of people failing to
...more
Joel Arnold
Nov 10, 2012 Joel Arnold rated it liked it
For some reason, I really like financial books. I think it's important to recognize the political, sociological and psychological dynamics that go into any major economic disruption. It was also interesting to recognize that the dynamics of the 2008 crisis and its aftermath didn't compare on any realistic level with 1929. Nor would the run up to 2008 really allow for us to say that it would have been another 1929 without intervention.

On the other hand, it seems completely reasonable to think tha
...more
Jason
Feb 17, 2010 Jason rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jason by: Matt Taibi's blog
"Always when markets are in trouble, the phrases are the same: 'The economic situation is fundamentally sound' or simply 'The fundamentals are good.' All who hear these words should know that something is wrong." - p. xiv. In these introductory words written for the 1997 edition, Galbraith plays the first notes of the leitmotif running through all speculative bubbles, particularly the great bubble and crash of 1929 (and subsequent depression), the notion that expansion of economic speculation is ...more
Cooper Cooper
Aug 01, 2009 Cooper Cooper rated it really liked it
In his usual tart and trenchant style, John Kenneth Galbraith delivers a blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the Great Crash, the crash itself, and its aftermath. His overall conclusions: the crash was caused not so much by technical factors as by the get-rich-quick mood of investing Americans; the bankers behaved deplorably before and during the crisis; the Fed essentially did nothing; the New York Stock Exchange behaved pretty well; and the ensuing Depression was lengthened and d ...more
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John Kenneth Galbraith (10/15/1908–4/29/2006) was a Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian & an institutionalist, a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism & democratic socialism. His books on economic topics were bestsellers in the '50s & '60s. A prolific author, he produced four dozen books & over a 1000 articles on many subjects. Among his most famous work ...more
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“The sense of responsibility in the financial community for the community as a whole is not small. It is nearly nil.” 15 likes
“In many ways the effect of the crash on embezzlement was more significant than on suicide. To the economist embezzlement is the most interesting of crimes. Alone among the various forms of larceny it has a time parameter. Weeks, months, or years may elapse between the commission of the crime and its discovery. (This is a period, incidentally, when the embezzler has his gain and the man who has been embezzled, oddly enough, feels no loss. There is a net increase in psychic wealth.) At any given time there exists an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement in — or more precisely not in — the country’s businesses and banks. This inventory — it should perhaps be called the bezzle — amounts at any moment to many millions of dollars. It also varies in size with the business cycle. In good times people are relaxed, trusting, and money is plentiful. But even though money is plentiful, there are always many people who need more. Under these circumstances the rate of embezzlement grows, the rate of discovery falls off, and the bezzle increases rapidly. In depression all this is reversed. Money is watched with a narrow, suspicious eye. The man who handles it is assumed to be dishonest until he proves himself otherwise. Audits are penetrating and meticulous. Commercial morality is enormously improved. The bezzle shrinks.



Just as the boom accelerated the rate of growth, so the crash enormously advanced the rate of discovery. Within a few days, something close to a universal trust turned into something akin to universal suspicion. Audits were ordered. Strained or preoccupied behavior was noticed. Most important, the collapse in stock values made irredeemable the position of the employee who had embezzled to play the market. He now confessed.”
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