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Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  13,876 ratings  ·  805 reviews
With penetrating insights for today, this vital history of the world economic collapse of the late 1920s offers unforgettable portraits of the four men whose personal and professional actions as heads of their respective central banks changed the course of the twentieth century

It is commonly believed that the Great Depression that began in 1929 resulted from a confluence
Hardcover, 564 pages
Published January 22nd 2009 by Penguin Press (first published 2009)
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George Self-imposed on their part from WWI. But possibly.

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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
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Like many former American school students, I studied the Great Depression from a social standpoint in depth across many American history courses. The classes focused on Black Tuesday and the country plunging into a depression, yet not relaying to students what a financial depression actually was. We studied President Roosevelt's programs for recovery as well as how the hard times effected average American people. Yet, lacking in the courses I took in school were the financial causes for this wor ...more
Will Byrnes
Jan 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, economics
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
Jan 31, 2009 rated it did not like it

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
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 books
Feb 28, 2009 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
Greg Brown
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World is an intricate, in-depth look at the men who were in charge of the financial structures of the four biggest economies during the lead up to The Great Depression. Starting as early as 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles, Liaquat Ahamed gives us a detailed account of the triumphs and, most importantly, the mistakes these men made in the economic well being of their own countries and, consequently, of the rest of the modern world.

The major characters
Nov 08, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audiobook of this, and I think I need to stop listening to non-fiction books on audio because I never remember the certain facts that I love to commit to memory when I read historical non-fiction books. That said this book had a lot of information about the time and people involved. It was interesting to learn a lot more about economics.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A really good biography of a few of the bankers during the time of ww1 and the great depression. It went through the economic events caused by the war and what contributed to the great depression.
It is interesting that Harry White was so influential in post WW2 economic and monetary planning, helping to found the IMF and was the president of it for a while. He and Keynes agreed on a lot of economic theories, and then he turns out to be a communist spy. It should make us reconsider the economic t
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never thought that a book on economics would be so interesting. A quartet of biographies mixed into the economics and history of the time period. This gave me a much deeper insight into the Great Depression and the decades that surround it.
David Niose
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Entertaining and informative, a history of the 1920s and 1930s from the standpoint of the important figures shaping economic policy. Whereas most histories of the era tend to focus on the political figures and events, this book shows how the bankers shaping monetary policy had an enormous impact. Ahamed's Pulitzer was well-deserved. ...more
Michele Weiner
Dec 28, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Rob Price
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it

An insightful account of the social, economic and political trends of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, centred on the monetary economics leading to the great depression. As someone with a passion for monetary economics, there were times when I was looking for a little more opinion, defence of good ideas and criticism of weak. But Ahmed does well to note the various opinions in a reasonably objective way, allowing the reader to assess them and delve a little deep
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
Jan 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Athan Tolis
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Eat your hearts out Irving Fisher, John Kenneth Galbraith, Charles Kindelberger, Milton Friedman, Richard Koo and Ben Bernanke. An amateur has written the definitive narrative of the Great Depression.

I have no idea if the author is right about everything he says here. I looked in vain for Smoot-Hawley and could not find any mention. But I don't care. If this book was fiction it would still be a strong candidate for the best book I've ever read. The fact that it takes you through the history of t
Frank Stein
Jun 11, 2009 rated it liked it

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
Aaron Million
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Economic history can be a somewhat dry subject to read about. Not so with Liaquat Ahamed's Pulitzer Prize-winning book examining the financial machinations of Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Ahamed tries to avoid excessively using technical economic jargon and convoluted theories that would go right over the non-financially literate, which includes myself. While of course the book does focus on economics, Ahamed equally focuses on the ...more
Helga Cohen
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this Pulitzer Prize winning book, Lords of Finance, we have a narrative about four bankers from the period between World War I and what lead to the Great Depression in 1929 and the aftermath through World War II. I found this to be a very interesting book about this topic. It was clearly written by a banker who understands central banking. We learn about the formation of the Federal Reserve Bank and the later formation of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to assist in helping other countr ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Frederik Vandelannoote
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economy
This book is clearly written by a banker and in favor of central banking. So he excludes some fundamental systemic elements out of his equation. However, he states correctly that the fundamental reason for the great depression was too much debt (war and reparation debt) - which makes the book very relevant to the upcoming crash. The writer gives vivid descriptions of the main characters which makes the book an enjoyable read. Personally, I liked his honesty when consistently mentioning the natio ...more
Mark Avison
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Immeasurably improved my knowledge of economics and its fabric in international relations. Will be fascinating to watch if some of the same themes reoccur in current times
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010. The book primarily follows the four directors of central banks after WWI and how their decisions helped develop the economic conditions that led to the Great Depression and ultimately WWII.

(I listened to the audio book because I didn’t believe I could stick with reading such a book on economics. However, it turned out to be a good book).


- Norman, Benjamin Strong of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Hjalmar Schacht of the R
Polly Roth
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A surprisingly engaging read. Ahamed does a remarkable job explaining the complexities of the technical finance concepts without coming across as condescending. I would highly recommend to anyone interested in international finance and will look for similar books on other crises.
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NonFiction Pulitzers: Lords of Finance: Mar/Apr 2018 Group Read 71 34 Apr 21, 2018 10:45AM  

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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

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28 likes · 3 comments
“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.” 2 likes
“Nothing brings home the fragility of the banking system or the potency of a financial crisis more vividly than writing about these issues from the eye of the storm. Watching the world’s central bankers and finance officials grappling with the current situation—trying one thing after another to restore confidence, throwing everything they can at the problem, coping daily with unexpected and startling shifts in market sentiment—reinforces the lesson that there is no magic bullet or simple formula for dealing with financial panics.” 2 likes
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