Scott's Reviews > The Great Crash of 1929

The Great Crash of 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
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's review
May 23, 09

bookshelves: 1950s, money, history, contexts
Read in May, 2009

Galbraith is sort of the Lytton Strachey of economics. They share a mordant, sardonic wit that makes their writing entertaining even though their tone may at times strike you as unfair and smug. The book is full of surprises: the notion that suicides increased markedly after the crash is a myth; turns out that more people killed themselves during the booming summer preceding the break. Another surprise was that the crash may in fact have been a symptom of the incipient depression, not the cause of it; popular wisdom usually gets this backward. And I was really surprised to learn how long it took the markets to hit bottom: the great crash wasn't a one-day, one-week, or even one-year disaster. It was downward trend that saw the markets fall at first precipitously in the autumn, then rebound a little till summer, then fall some more, and then some more, and then some more ... investors didn't hear "plop!" until 1932, three years after Black Thursday! Let's hope hope the trajectory of the current market crash doesn't follow the same pattern.

The Great Crash: 1929 is a very readable history full of fools and villains and more fools, and it gave me all the history I found lacking in Galbraith's much shorter book on market crashes, A Short History of Financial Euphoria. You don't need a deep background in economics or even history to enjoy it, though the last chapters get a little involved in laying out the economic causes for the downturn.

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