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America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve
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America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  813 ratings  ·  90 reviews
A tour de force of historical reportage, America’s Bank illuminates the tumultuous era and remarkable personalities that spurred the unlikely birth of America’s modern central bank, the Federal Reserve. Today, the Fed is the bedrock of the financial landscape, yet the fight to create it was so protracted and divisive that it seems a small miracle that it was ever established. ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by Penguin Press (first published September 22nd 2015)
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R.K. Gold
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am sorry if my review turns into a summary of this book I just love to talk about it.

So I gave this book a second read because I was struggling to remember some of its main points and am so happy to refamiliarize myself with the material. It builds a strong argument by starting with what America was like before it centralized its bank. The Revolutionary War ended in 1783 and it wasn't until December 1913 that the Fed Reserve Act passed under President Wilson. During that 130 year p
...more
Lobstergirl
Jul 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Shania Twain

I really was expecting this to be more exciting. It was so dry I finished it four hours ago and I'm still chugging ice water.

I will say, though: thank goodness our politicians got together and decided having a central bank was necessary and were able to overcome the typical American resistance to anything federal or centralized or (LOOK AWAY) partly run by the government. Just imagine if we had only created a central bank the same year we came up with Obamacare.

It's really quite rem
...more
Mark Mortensen
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: americana
As a former business major who leans toward the sales and marketing side I was on edge as to whether I really wanted to read a comprehensive historical analysis of the Federal Reserve, an arena that often receives low grades.

Throughout the 18th and 19th Century American civilization managed finances without a Federal Reserve System. As America grew and travel expanded gold and silver certificates along with other notes became a popular addition to currency. The constant strain on private and co
...more
Mehrsa
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book has some flaws--it's very in the weeds of it all and too little analysis for my taste. However, it's one of the best central bank histories out there and fills a big void in banking history. Hopefully, accounts like this will put to rest the conspiracy theorists, cranks, and gold standard folks out there. The book also redeems Wilson in my view. A flawed president (mostly because he was a white supremacist), he's ultimately responsible for bringing together the divergent views on the f ...more
Frank Stein
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story of the creation of the Federal Reserve has been told many times, not least by its creators. As the author notes, eight different people who had a hand in its drafting wrote memoirs about it, and others filled out interviews and articles with their memories. As often as not, these memoirs attacked and defamed the other creators as mere publicity-seekers with little input into the real draft of the final act. Later, others wrote academic histories of the struggle, assigning blame and pra ...more
Satya Ananthu
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Too many competing ideologies, too many currencies, fear of federal control etc. etc. Finally Federal Reserve was created after a failed version of national bank.

I hardly remember more than a few names from this book, but it was quite informative and helped me understand a little bit about different political forces in the United States. As someone said 'There is no limit to how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit', this effort has been a result of many lead
...more
Aaron Arnold
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Many people have strong opinions about the Federal Reserve, despite not having a clear idea of what it is, what it does, how it's structured, or who's in charge. However, even if that describes you, don't feel so bad, because ignorance has been practically a second father to the Fed since the beginning. America's allergy to central banking has endured from the founding, through multiple painful financial crises and recessions, and even through to the relatively peaceful and prosperous present. A ...more
Lynn
Mar 10, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone critical of the unforeseen consequences of Fed interventions and its monetary policies, Lowenstein does offer a good historical background to the reasoning and original intent behind the 1913 Federal Reserve Act. While the story of the political struggle traced through the key figures can be riveting, I do find it unsettling the author's dismissive attitude towards any arguments against the Fed.

The need for a central bank was simply unquestioned. The free banking era was portrayed as
...more
Jean
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I heard Lowenstein on the New York Times book review podcast and it sounded interesting. I had just finished “Courage to Act” by Ben S. Bernanke and this book seem to fit right into the topic.

The book starts in 1787 and follows the topic of the need for a Federal Bank. Alexander Hamilton fought for a central bank but many opposed a strong federal government. Lowenstein goes into detail about President Wilson and his fight for the Federal Reserve and how they passed the “Federal Reser
...more
Tony Cavicchi
Roger Lowenstein weaves a tale of the ghost of Andrew Jackson and the men who made the Federal Reserve. Contra the modern libertarian complaints of progressive Woodrow Wilson forcing a monstrosity of big government onto America, the creation of the Federal Reserve was much more nuanced. Lowenstein walks through the issues of fiat currency, the gold standard, currency reserves and legal tender, reserve discounting, deposit insurance, the Chicago vs. New York banking rivalry, central bank vs. regi ...more
Jdb
May 14, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an interesting and easy read. While I was hoping for more explanations of how our monetary system works, the narrative was true to the book’s title. There is a lot of detail about the who, what, where, and when of negotiations leading to the Federal Reserve Act. Although tedious at times, it is a classic example of the dichotomy of our Constitutional system: any positive but radical change has a tortuous path to enactment. And this is as it should be for our founding fathers understood f ...more
Al Berry
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A short interesting look at the creation of the federal reserve, probably closer to 3.5 than 4.

The battles within the divided republican and Democratic parties to bring about a central bank, brief background on the need for and comparison with Europe, but mostly a look at the historical stewardship of the legislation.
Cian O hAnnrachainn
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
With all the current chatter about banks and bank bail-outs, Roger Lowenstein's AMERICA'S BANK is a timely read.



The book is not for everyone, diving into the deep end of the financial pool as it does, but for those who wonder how America's banking system got to where it is today, the book is highly informative. Mr. Lowenstein presents the decade-long political struggle to re-introduce a federal bank, something that Europeans take for granted but one that was lacking in America for m
...more
Gregg Wingo
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
What could be drier than a book about the creation of the Federal Reserve, right? Well, Lowenstein is up to the challenge. The creation of the Fed was not, however, a straight forward legislative process due to the legacy of the various incarnations of the Bank of United States and the presidency of Andrew Jackson so his task is made decidedly easier. One of the founders of the Fed, German-born banker Paul Warburg was so alienated by Jackson's legacy that he wrote in his dairy this quote from Ne ...more
Susan
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
You think our banking system is complex and ridiculous now. A little over 100 years ago, the United States did not have a central bank helping to stabilize and structure our banking system. Crazy! Banks issued their own notes based on their own capital and an odd system of deposits with larger banks to work as some sort of reserve system. If you took your money on a trip, it could devalue as you made your way across the state. And the fall harvest pretty much guaranteed an annual run on the bank ...more
Edgar Raines
Nov 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
A wonderful narrative history tracing the origins of the creation of the Federal Reserve to the Panic of 1907 and emphasizing the key roles played by Senator Nelson Aldrich and the banker Paul Warburg in creating the concept and William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Representative Carter Glass in pushing the legislation through Congress. The Federal Reserve System was a progressive reform with conservative roots---and perhaps because of that rather effective.
Jing Conan Wang
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I recently finished the book of "American's Bank" by Roger Lowenstein. This book describes the history of how the federal reserve system was built. Since US federal reserve has such a huge impact on the world's economy, this book could help us understand how the world's financial system evolved.

Before the birth of the Federal Reserve, there were two trials of building a central bank in the US. However, neither of them lasted very long because of American people's aversion to centrali
...more
Fraser Kinnear
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Definitely a much better read if you already have a working understanding of monetary policy and how central banks work.

Some stuff I learned:
- The US had 2 central banks in its early history, the second of which was shut down by Andrew Jackson in 1836, who left a lasting impact on American political culture against the idea of central banking (it took >80 years to overcome Jackson's ghost and establish our third and current institution). Much of this weariness about centrali
...more
Richard Hessney
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2019
There was a joke at the time of the Federeral Reserve Bank's creation in 1913 that it had so many fathers its mother must've been a very immoral woman. After the Panic of 1907, a credit crisis, Wall St, Main St and the federal government agreed banking reform was necessary, but it took six years for the Glass-Owen Act establishing a central bank to be signed by President Woodrow Wilson. The U.S. had not had a central bank for over 70 years since the Second Bank of the U.S. was abolished in the J ...more
Breakingviews
Oct 30, 2015 rated it liked it
By Edward Chancellor

The Federal Reserve’s influence is so pervasive that we cannot imagine a world without it, writes Roger Lowenstein in his new book, “America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve.” Yet Americans have always blown hot and cold about their own central bank.

Its first two incarnations were short-lived. President Andrew Jackson shuttered the Second Bank of the United States in 1836 - a move which reflected the public’s distrust of an over-
...more
Rapp
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When discussing the Federal Reserve with my high school Economics class, I realized that I wanted to learn more about how the Fed was formed and how it worked. Roger Lowenstein's book was a perfect place to begin. I expected the book to be rather dry and heavy reading--and doubted whether I'd have time to get through it at the end of the school year--but it was a veritable page turner.

Lowenstein begins his story at the end of the Roosevelt Administration and carries it through the Ta
...more
Mark Lawry
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are perhaps other better books that explain why we have a Federal Reserve, how it works, how the Fed has saved us from depressions while we were in recesssions, why money works, what money actually is, and why the entire world left the gold standard. Getting off the gold standard in the U.S. won't happen until 1971. However, most conspiracy freaks (at least in my experience) tend to argue that the creation of the fed and getting off the gold standard was all one big conspiracy. Both fears ...more
Brad Mills
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is heavily leaning towards pro-Keynsian pro-central bank propaganda, but it's a very good read to hear about the history of how the Federal Reserve came to be.

I'm a bitcoiner, so I'm very interested in economics, money and the history of money.

I've read a lot of political financial books like Currency Wars, a lot of trading books, etc.

Many people don't know that the Federal Reserve is a private bank. It's not part of the US government, and US dollars
...more
Peter Murray
Dec 28, 2017 rated it liked it
And epic struggle indeed to create the Fed. America's resistance to central control created instead a system of disparate banks which, come the fall harvest, the farmers would suck dry and trigger a panicked run on the banks - as sure as the turning of the seasons. It was to Europe we had to learn that a central banks makes the kind of sense that pooling water in a firehouse is far better than storing a buck in each household. Creating the Fed was a complicated, detailed affair and Lowenstein ha ...more
Ken
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exacting History of Federal Reserve Act

Very detailed history of the how the U.S. Federal Reserve System was founded. I liked the detail from a historical perspective but it slowed the story a bit. Very intricate descriptions of the people, personalities, and adversities of working against Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian centralization ideas during the Progressive era of the early 1900s. I recommend this book to history and finance buffs.
Evan
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
Turns out, the politics behind the creation of the Fed were not actually that interesting. I spend several hours a week Fed-watching, and even I couldn't really get into this book. The period of 1908-1911 takes too large a percent of the total book-as if the author set out to write a 15 page paper but after having completed 9 pages, realized that the assignment was for a 10 pager. Few insights, generally disappointing.
Jake
Dec 22, 2017 rated it liked it
The Federal Reserve, in its third form, was established on December 23, 1913. This is a carefully documented account of the mood, ideas and debates affecting its creation. Personally, I enjoyed the detail on its institutional design more than the detail on the surrounding politics. Good book to reference.
Frank Kelly
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Central banks are more powerful and crucial to global and domestic stability than ever before. Lowenstein - a best in class reporter and author - offers a fascinating history of the battle to create the US Federal Reserve Bank. Fun read and a great way to understand the roots of central banking as we know it now.
Bojana Duke
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Exceedingly boring - too much of a focus on the details of who and when (of events happening 100+ years ago!) rather than telling stories that actually make the impact of these events clear. I was hoping to actually learn a bit more about the Fed’s role and its functions then through today rather than the details of the various proposals that first brought it into being.
Vin
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Painstakingly detailed account of the political theater behind the development of the bank, but little explanation of the actual structure and importance of the myriad proposals. Invaluable supplement on the political history to someone already well versed in the economic history.
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Roger Lowenstein has reported for the Wall Street Journal for more than a decade and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and The New Republic. He is the author of Buffet: the Making of an American Capitalist

-HarperCollins
“The moment was highly polarizing. Populists agitated for an income tax, tariff reform, regulation of railroads, and direct election of U.S. senators (who were chosen by the legislatures). Workers erupted in sometimes violent strikes—notably, the Pullman strike of 1894, which halted much of the nation’s rail traffic and led to rioting and acts of sabotage, and was ultimately suppressed by federal troops.” 0 likes
“Three questions divided reformers: Who should issue the new currency? To what degree should the system be centralized? And should bankers or politicians be in control?” 0 likes
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