Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World
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Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  5,271 ratings  ·  401 reviews
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize

"A magisterial work...You can't help thinking about the economic crisis we're living through now." --The New York Times Book Review


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 decisi...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published December 29th 2009 by Penguin Books (first published 2009)
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Jan-Maat
An honest title for this book would be the 1001 Nights of International Finance from the eve of the First World War to Bretton Woods. We are tumbled from one story to another detail many of which are completely irrelevant (Madame Caillaux shooting the editor of Le Figaro, the First Name Club failing to set up a US central bank, the names of Poincare's pet dog and cat (which was a Siamese)) but which are included because they are entertaining. This is an undisciplined book written by somebody alw...more
Will Byrnes
Ahamed has written a fascinating account of how four central bankers were at the core of the economic madness that gripped the world after World War I and led to the second great war.

The personalities are interesting, and the scent of the times wafts from the pages sufficient to sting the nostrils. This is a book written for a popular audience. No great knowledge of economics is required. But that sure would help. It is not only our elected officials, Wall Street brokers and government officials...more
AC
I returned to and finished this book on audible -- driving about the local streets -- to and from work -- and driving the kids hither & thither... what it lacks as a book (and my opinion about the issue of reparations has not been changed by L.A.'s arguments) -- that it is somewhat shallow qua analysis -- it gains as an audible -- in that it is very strong on narrative.

The result is that the author often strives for effect, rather than truth -- there is a rhetorical element, common to many b...more
rmn
Yawn.

Screw waterboarding, let’s make the terrorists read this book cover to cover. Its length is only dwarfed by its lack of pace.

In theory, this is a 500 page book about the four central bankers whose missteps led to the Great Depression and sinking of the global economy in the 1930s. However, maybe half of the book is about those central bankers (who are exceedingly boring) while the other half is about the minutiae of the international financial wranglings of the time and the myriad people be...more
Frank Stein

Ahamed's one of those lucky authors who spends a decade working on a book and then pop! it lands at Borders the second its subject supposedly becomes essential to global salvation. Suddenly every anchor with 5 spare minutes wants an interview.

Ahamed wrote a book on central banking and the Great Depression and it came out just as the economic world fell to crap. Lucky him. It also received ridiculously positive reviews from everybody.

To my mind it was tedious, plodding, repetitious, and the stor...more
Erez Davidi
Lords of Finance is a financial history of the western world from after War World I through the roaring twenties and, later on, the Great Depression. It does so in a unique way by following the lives of the four most important central bankers (Germany, France, US, and Britain) at the time.

As the title suggests, the author puts most of the blame on the central bankers. He cites two main reasons that led to the Great Depression. The first is the reparations that Germany was forced to pay to the Al...more
Michele Weiner
This explanation of the perfect storm that lead to the Great Depression was oddly reassuring in light of the current economic climate. Ahamed describes the sorry state of economic and monetary theory, the straightjacket that was the gold standard, and the mediocrities who were in charge of the world's money during the period between the wars. Today, he says, we have Keynes, we are not tethered to gold, and the crises that we have experienced have had the decency to occur one at a time with a dec...more
David
An excellent book, deserving of the many rewards and positive reviews that it has received. I listened to this on a three-part Audible download, and I noticed the following small errors.

-- Part two, chapter four, time 13:40: Mixed metaphor alert: “Moreau's star was about to turn.” I guess a star can actually rotate, but, in my mental dictionary, when you wish to metaphorically indicate an improvement in someone's fortune, their star rises. Fortunes themselves, less metaphorically, can turn.

A Goo...more
Greg Brown
Even given his opening epigraph claiming that biography was the only way to understand history, Ahamed spends surprisingly little time describing each of the bankers as people. Sure, there are the vivid descriptions of their personalities and the expected personal details that helps to explain some of their behavior, but more important to the story is the unique situations each of them faced in their respective home countries: Moreau in France, Schacht in Germany, Norman in England, and Strong i...more
Tony
Ahamed, Liaquat. LORDS OF FINANCE. (2009). ***. Subtitled “The Bankers Who Broke the World,” this was this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for History. It’s a massive book, extremely well researched, but...it’s boring. Maybe if you were an Econ major, this would be for you and really get you turned on. I’m a chemist and it didn’t do anything for me. Ahamed’s thesis is that the Great Depression and the economic meltdown was caused by a small number of central bankers that were also responsible for s...more
Constantine
Don't know why I continue to read books on finance. Economics is too esoteric a discipline for me. Is all talk of economics ultimately sound and fury that signifies nothing.? Perhaps a lay reader should steer clear of the topic...or maybe it's just me and I'm just never going to get it. Having said that...this book was actually enjoyable...because it is more a history book than a theoretical presentation of economic theory (although I'm sure a reader with a background in that arcane realm would...more
Jason
This was a bit of a work-related read. I changed jobs recently, and in my current position I am monitoring Congress' proposed regulatory reform of the banking industry. So, I thought I would add a little historical depth to my analysis.

This is obviously a timely book with many frightening parallels that you will recognize from the headlines in your morning paper. However, as someone who continues to be drawn to the inter-war period, it also filled in some gaps.

Most folks interested in history...more
Courtney
This book centers on four fallible men whose decisions, over more than a decade, contributed to and exacerbated the Great Depression.

"Lords of Finance" is no dry accounting. It's a dense, but thrilling, examination of the leaders of the world's most powerful central banks -- in the U.S., France, Germany and Britain -- and their efforts to sustain their countries through World War I, and to rebuild when the fighting stopped. These men's ideas were often wrong, built on the fallacy of the gold sta...more
DoctorM
"Lords of Finance" looks at the world of the Gold Standard--- one of the more arcane gnostic cults ---and its interwar acolytes and tells the story of the major central banks from the beginnings of the Great War through the onset of the Great Depression. The book focuses on four major bankers (Strong of the NY Fed, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank,and Emil Moreau of the Banque de France) and their roles in trying to restore a lost world of gold-backed stab...more
Razvan Zamfirescu
Schacht în Germania. Strong în SUA. Moreau în Franţa. Norman în Marea Britanie. Şi un al cincilea personaj care îi urmăreşte din umbră şi îi admonestează în public: Keynes.
4 bancheri, 4 minţi luminate, 4 oameni care au avut în mână soarta omenirii timp de două decenii şi care au aruncat mapamondul într-o criză financiară de proporţii nemaintâlnite de şi până atunci.
Liaquat Ahamed îşi începe volumul cu un motto care susţine că biografiile sunt singurele care ne pot ajuta să înţelegem istoria. Din...more
Emily
In the early 1930s, a reporter asked John Maynard Keynes whether anything like the Great Depression had ever happened before. His reply: "Yes, it was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted four hundred years." This book is about the four central bankers (of the U.S., Great Britain, France, and Germany) who presided over the economic collapse between the World Wars. Imagine something much worse than the banking crisis of 2007 taking place after a brutal war in which millions of men were killed and i...more
Stella
Fascinating account of the world of central bankers from just before the Great War to Roosevelt. Describes the life and times of the central bankers for England, USA, France and Germany, comparing and contrasting. Much discussion of the gold standard and also a fifth central character, Maynard Keynes, who wanted to get rid of it, which of course they did eventually. Basically confirms my belief that no one in high finance really understands the system, or what effect their actions will have on i...more
Barry
This is a book that everyone should read. Most won’t, of course, and ‘tis a pity. Lords of Finance will be one of the best finance or history books published this year and quite likely will be one of the best of any book released in 2009.

Admittedly the story of four central bankers in the 1920s and 30s doesn’t sound like it would be on anyone’s must read list. But Liaquat Ahamed uses the outsize personalities of the bankers of the U.S., Britain, France and Germany to give a human face to the eve...more
Keith Akers
This is a good historical book. I like the approach of describing the actual lives of the bankers in question, who actually come across as sympathetic figures. Actually, they led pretty interesting lives, and this woven in with all the economic stuff is the main strength of the book. You get the sense that he is talking about people, not economics theory.

I don't think that the book quite supports the conclusion on the dust jacket, that the "decisions taken by a small number of central bankers ....more
Brian
The Lords of Finance provides one of the most comprehensive looks at how the Great Depression was caused and the early efforts that put economies back in order. Focusing on the four lead central bankers in the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany the author, Liaquat Ahamed tracks the course of how their decisions "broke the world" economies. Ahamed focuses on three things that went wrong with the world economy following World War 1 into its lead up for World War II. First he looks at...more
Crystal
A lengthy but informative read about the key central bankers and actions that led up to the Great Depression. The author assumes the reader has some knowledge of certain economic relationships, in terms of the implications of deflation, inflation and using the gold standard, which twenty years after my last economics course required a little effort on my part to work out. I wouldn't have minded a little more explicit information to help make sense of all of it.

The author goes into great detail a...more
Arminius
Lords of Finance is a very informative book of finance by telling the story of the economic difficulties of Europe following World War I. The book centers on the three main victors (England, France, and America) and the main loser (Germany) of WWI. All of whom happened to be economic powerhouses before the war but only America would remain so afterwards.

The harsh reparations placed on Germany during the Treaty of Versailles are detailed. They lost major production centers of their country annexe...more
todd
Written by someone with a firm grasp of monetary finance, this book is a fascinating history of the people and events that dominated central banking from prior to WW I to the outbreak of WW II. Reading about the few wise moves, the considerable political posturing, and the many outright blunders that drove Germany to hyperinflation and most major economies into depression provides a wonderful backdrop to today's real time debate.

Through a lively description of the events we learn there is nothin...more
Andrew
I thought this might be a good book to read during this campaign season (2012). There has been so much rhetoric about economics offered by politicians who know little about it, but claim to know a great deal.

Since we are in the recovery period following the Great Recession, it seemed sensible to read a book about the economics of the Great Depression. And a great choice this was. Ahamed tells the story of follies that essentially drove the world into bankruptcy and set the stage for World War I...more
Nick C
This is a great book. Here are a few observations about both it and the subject matter.

I have noticed that most history books generally go into too much detail for my level of interest in whatever the subject happens to be. Initially I was quite dismayed to see that this book was around 500 pages long, but rather than being dry and overly detailed it's actually a real page turner. Like an epic story, I just wanted it to carry on into the post war era and modern finance; it could have been a thou...more
Kay
Don't tell the conspiracy theorists, but this book is basically about the four men who really ran the world through some of the most tumultuous times in recent history: World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. These four men, the central bankers of Germany, the United States, Great Britain, and France, had a surprising influence on the historic outcomes we now can only view through hindsight. Unfortunately, they only sort of knew what they were doing.

There's no question that this er...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Almost all critics praised Lords of Finance for its command of economic history and engaging, lucid prose. Ahamed, noted the New York Times, illuminates wise parallels between the misplaced confidence that spawned the global depression in the 1930s and the illusory calculations of risk that led to the current financial crisis. His compelling biographies also personalize economic history. While critics disagreed about whether lay readers will, in a century's time, care about Norman, Moreau, and S

...more
Emmanuel Gustin
This account of the years that lead to the Great Depression and the event itself avoids simplistic explanations. It finds flaws with the economic theories that were fashionable at the time, and with the central bankers who played a key role in setting monetary policy. But it admits that some of the destructive mechanisms that prevailed in the 20s were beyond their control.

This is a story of undramatic human folly with dramatic consequences. It follows the meandering course of years of negotiati...more
Javier
This is a book that spans from 1914 to 1945 tracing back to the causes of the Great Depression. It talks about how the Great Depression came about because of the misjudgments of politicians exerting heavy war reparations on Germany which destroyed Germany's economy and brought it under hyperinflation. Other reasons for the Great Depression were the mistakes made in monetary policy from the bankers at the most important central banks at the time - The Fed, the Bank of England, the Banque de Franc...more
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Liaquat Ahamed has been a professional investment manager for 25 years. He has worked at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and the New York based partnership of Fischer Francis Trees and Watts, where he served as Chief Executive.

He is currently an advisor to several hedge fund groups, including the Rock Creek Group and the Rohatyn Group, is a director of Aspen Insurance Co., and is on the board...more
More about Liaquat Ahamed...
Economic Adjustment and Exchange Rates in Developing Countries The National Interest - March/April 2010

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“Tis a common proof That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder —WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Julius Caesar” 0 likes
“In April, 1926, France and the United States finally negotiated a war debt settlement at forty cents on the dollar. The [French] budget was at last fully balanced. Still the franc kept falling. By May, the exchange rate stood at over thirty to the dollar. With a currency in free-fall, prices now rising at 2% a month - over 25% a year - and the Government apparently impotent, everyone made the obvious comparison with the situation in Germany four years earlier. In fact, there was no real parallel. Germany in 1922 had lost all control of its budget deficit and in that single year expanded the money supply ten fold. By contrast, the French had largely solved their fiscal problems and its money supply was under control. The main trouble was the fear that the deep divisions between the right and left had made France ungovernable. The specter of chronic political chaos associated with revolving door governments and finance ministers was exacerbated by the uncertainty over the governments ability to fund itself given the overhang of more than $10 billion in short term debt. It was this psychology of fear, a generalized loss of nerve, that seemed to have gripped French investors and was driving the downward spiral of the franc. The risk was that international speculators, those traditional bugaboos of the Left, would create a self-fulfilling meltdown as they shorted the currency in the hope of repurchasing it later at a lower price thereby compounding the very downward trend that they were trying to exploit. It was the obverse of a bubble where excessive optimism translates into rising prices which then induces even more buying. Now excessive pessimism was translating into falling prices which were inducing even more selling. In the face of this all embracing miasma of gloom neither the politicians nor the financial establishment seemed to have any clue what to do.” 0 likes
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