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Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  9,247 Ratings  ·  535 Reviews
"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 decisions made by a small number of ce
ebook, 576 pages
Published January 22nd 2009 by Penguin Books (first published 2009)
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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
Jan 29, 2010 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 31, 2015 Max rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Ahamed profiles four central bankers who defined monetary policy in the decade leading to the 1929 crash. Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England; Benjamin Strong of the New York Federal Reserve Bank; Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank; and Émile Moreau of the Banque de France. While their personalities played a role, far more important was their adherence to the gold standard which straitjacketed their banks culminating in the Great Depression. German reparations for WWI were problem ...more
Jan 31, 2009 rmn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
Apr 01, 2009 AC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg Brown
Feb 25, 2013 Greg Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 28, 2009 Mahlon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
Lords of Finance tracks the lives of the central bankers of the USA, Great Britain, France and Germany from 1900 to about 1950, and explains how their fiscal policy led to the Great Depression.

While this important book is definitely worth reading, I can't really understand why it won a Pulitzer. It's a bit of a slog before the depression but the storytelling and quality of writing picks up once 1929 arrives. Recommended for anyone who likes books about finance, tycoons, or wants A really good un
Apr 03, 2009 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 26, 2010 KOMET rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Economics plays a decisive role in shaping and guiding our lives. For most of us, it is not an easy subject to understand. I am the holder of an Economics degree (cum laude) from my college days. Even so, there are still many things about economics and finance that either elude my grasp or I partially understand, for both disciplines are fluid and dynamic, ever evolving, ever changing.

For that reason, I sought out this book, "Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World", to help me to beg
Sep 11, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-biography
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
Nov 08, 2009 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
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
Jan 16, 2010 Courtney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 18, 2012 Gwern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this tremendously for revealing a new world to me where I thought I already knew the lay of the land. Throughout were revelations to me - just how ruinous WWI was, how reparations kept echoing and damaging Germany, how exactly the hyperinflation started (it was only partly the Versailles payments but more the social programs?), how America aggravated the issue (the Coolidge quote and the American tourists certainly never appeared in my history textbooks...), how late the stock bubble w ...more
Jul 14, 2012 Constantine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
"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
Apr 22, 2010 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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,’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
Asails F
A must read!
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
Jan 20, 2010 Arminius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
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
Feb 29, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really well done. This is a blend of biography, history, and economics. It follows the key characters in monetary policy from the US, the UK, France and Germany as they navigate WW1, then the volatility of the 1920s, and the great depression. He ends with some very brief commentary on WW2 and the Bretton Woods agreement after the war, but ultimately, the book is an attempt to understand what lead to the great depression. Highlights for me were: the overview on how central banking worked in the p ...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 .
Nov 10, 2013 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 26, 2009 Barry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, american
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
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
Sep 11, 2011 Crystal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick C
Jan 02, 2013 Nick C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 20, 2010 todd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2010 Stella rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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 about Liaquat Ahamed...

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“the gold standard was incapable of preventing the sort of financial booms and busts that were, and continue to be, such a feature of the economic landscape. These bubbles and crises seem to be deep-rooted in human nature and inherent to the capitalist system. By one count there have been sixty different crises since the early seventeenth century—the first documented bank panic can, however, be dated to A.D. 33 when the Emperor Tiberius had to inject one million gold pieces of public money into the Roman financial system to keep it from collapsing.” 1 likes
“I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated. —Poul ANDERSON” 1 likes
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