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The Great Crash of 1929

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  4,854 ratings  ·  373 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 28th 1997 by Mariner Books (first published 1954)
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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 that was one of those fashionably long books that shows the reader plenty of trees, but leaves no sense of the shape of the forest. How different Galbraith's book.

The very narrowness and interest in precise detai
Apr 24, 2008 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
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This has been on my radar for years and years and after watching Ken Burns excellent documentary on the Dust Bowl I felt compelled to dive in.

While this does describe the Great Depression it is mainly limited to the specific details of the stock market crash in 1929, revealing what led to that economic catastrophe that would be a part of such a wide ranging calamity for our nation and the world. I had always believed that the stock market collapse had been the cause of the depression, but Galbra
Mikey B.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mikey B. by: Sanjay Varma
For a book on economic issues this is entertaining! It has sardonic wit.

Mr. Galbraith (Canadian born by the way) explores the before, then the dark days of October 1929, and the devastating aftermath.

What is interesting throughout, is the constant flow of reassurances, from those who should (I suppose) have known better, that the “economy was solid” along with a multitude of similar buoyant phrases. Doomsayers, and there were not many, were dismissed as charlatans. The eternal optimists, even af
Greg Strandberg
Jun 03, 2015 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
Nathan  Fisher
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of those great books by liberals that can't but reaffirm one's belief in the obvious rightness of Marxism (only jokingly nodded to here, but at least respected as a threat). It's genuinely *hilarious* and read in conjunction with any book about 2008 would be bound to forcibly march someone a few steps left. ...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
First published in the U.S.A. 1954.
I found a 1984 Pelican paperback edition in Vinnies for $2. as well as a Donald Fagen CD The Nightfly in mint condition for $2.
A favourite song of mine is Black Friday on Steely Dan's Katy Lied album. The first and last lines of Black Friday are 'When Black Friday comes', 'I'll guess I'll change my name.' Released in 1975 by the way.

The Great Crash 1929 is clearly explained. Fascinating. The question that I keep asking throughout is, how could this be allowed t
Sagar Jethani
Dec 22, 2010 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
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Read for The Well-Educated Mind Histories. My review:
Jan 14, 2012 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
John Gurney
May 04, 2015 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. ...more
Pinja Eriksson
Apr 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Dull and hard to read. Not recommended for anyone that isn’t native in English. What a disappointment!
Very readable, easy to understand, it flows quite nicely. I'd say it's a good introduction and overall it offered a great general view on the period/phenomenon.
But if you are really wondering what caused the Great Depression, I would highly recommend Eichengreen's article"The Origins and Nature of the Great Slump Revisited". It's not as entertaining as this book, and quite frankly I greatly dislike Eichengreen's writing style, but that is the real deal.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone investing in Financial Markets.
While bubbles are euphoric, they are unhealthy.

But we do love bubbles, don’t we?
Gleb Posobin
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I don't know any economics, but I enjoyed this book a lot (and I think understood most of it) and want to learn macroeconomics now. The writing is great, I was laughing every couple pages. ...more
Jan 04, 2010 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
Mark Hartzer
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was going to give this a 4 star review until I got to the final chapter where Galbraith enumerates his ideas on the cause of the Great Crash and subsequent Great Depression.

Galbraith: "... the economy was fundamentally unsound. Many things were wrong, but five weaknesses seem to have had an especially intimate bearing on the ensuing disaster. They are:
1.) The bad distribution of income." Uh oh, that sounds familiar.
2.) The bad corporate structure. The fact was that American enterprise in the t
Feb 05, 2009 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
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
Sep 08, 2011 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
Dec 29, 2008 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. ...more
Dec 08, 2007 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.

Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a cool funny informative book. This book was written back in the 1950's and, while it's been revised over the years, this info is totally relevant and the they way the author has written this is quirky, funny, and not dry at all. ...more
Josh Friedlander
What caused the great crash? Mostly what you'd think, overheated speculation that led to some ridiculous excesses. Galbraith does talk down the extent to which everyone was involved in the speculation, and has some data to reject the myth that stockbrokers plummeted from their offices in droves. (There was only a slight uptick in suicides of any type.) Noteworthy is the author's perspective on the macroeconomic background, and the crash's connection to the larger economic depression that followe ...more
Efrén Ayón
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
A rather enfuriating case of the typical centrist-keynesian quandary of successfully calling out the symptoms but refusing to diagnose the disease. Here, the author comes up with sufficient data to back up the obvious claim that even in the best case scenario for capitalism, high productivity and improving wages but unequal distribution, the outcome will inevitably be tragic... BUT, there's still no room for discusing alternatives to this broken system, a socialist economy is mentioned but never ...more
Paige McLoughlin
Galbraith is a Keynesian economist writing in the 1950s when they dominated economics departments in the US. His work on the 1929 crash is more qualitative and conceptual and historical before economists became neoliberal apologists covering their horrible economic ideas with fancy math to look legit (my opinionated take). Keynesian were of course also defenders of the order but at least capitalism in the Fordist era had some restraints and cushions from the brutality people in charge then unli ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Short and interesting story, focused on the stock market boom and crash. He tries to understand the reasons for both, but maybe there are not enough comparisons to other speculative booms for his explanations to be fully convincing. Interesting, nonetheless. Galbraith crams in a lot of atmosphere. He is also very opinionated and judgmental, which is fun to read. It is a bit frustrating that he describes stock price movements all in dollars, instead of in percentage point changes—without the deno ...more
Omar Halabieh
Jan 09, 2012 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
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: informational
The book gave a very detailed description and the various reasons that might have lead to the Great Depression, it also included a lot of details of the events like the action bankers and politicians took before the crash. It did bore me a little bit toward the end because of how much information it gives you. You would like this book if you enjoy American history
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John Kenneth Galbraith was a Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian and an institutionalist, a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism and democratic socialism. His books on economic topics were bestsellers in the 1950s and 1960s. A prolific author, he produced four dozen books & over a 1000 articles on many subjects. Among his most famous works was his economics trilogy: Am ...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.” 24 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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