The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History / Edition 1

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"The history of prices is the history of change," writes David Hackett Fischer in this broad sweep of western history from the middle ages to our own time. His primary sources are price records, which are more abundant for the study of historical change than any other type of quantifiable data. Fischer uses these materials to frame a narrative of price-movements in western history from the eleventh century to the present. He finds that prices tended to rise throughout this long period, but most of their increase happened in four great waves of inflation - which he calls the price-revolutions of the thirteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries. The four waves shared many qualities in common. All had the same movements of prices and price-relatives, falling real wages, rising returns to capital, and growing gaps between rich and poor. They were also very similar in the structure of change. Each of them started silently, developed increasing instability, and ended in a shattering crisis that combined social disorder, political upheaval, economic collapse, and demographic contraction. These crises happened in the fourteenth, seventeenth, and late eighteenth centuries. They were followed by long periods of comparative equilibrium: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Victorian era. In all of these eras prices fell and stabilized, wages rose, and inequalities diminished. Then another great wave began and the pattern repeated itself, but not in precisely the same way. Fischer quotes Mark Twain: history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Through all of these movements, Fischer explores the linkages between economic trends, social tendencies, political events, and cultural processes. He finds that long periods of price-equilibrium were marked by a faith in order, harmony, progress, and reason. By contrast, price-revolutions created cultures of despair in their middle and later stages. Fischer examines the cause of these movements, and discusses t
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Fischer (Paul Revere's Ride, LJ 4/1/94) turns to economic concerns in this informative and readable history of price revolutions. The first revolution of which we have adequate record occurred in the 13th century: it coincided with the onslaught of the Black Death and put an end to the forward movement and optimism of the High Middle Ages. Later price crises coincided with devastating religious wars and social unrest in the 17th century, revolutions at the end of the 18th century, and the Great Depression and the horrors of totalitarianism of our own century. Today, we face another devastating wave of inflation: "after 1975...ratios of wealth inequality reached their highest levels in four centuries of American history....The principal victims [are]...the young people who ha[ve] no hope for the future and no memory of better times in the past. The result [is] a rapid growth of alienation, anomie, confusion, and despair." Fischer combines a lively narrative with cogent analysis and sound advice. Essential for scholarly collections, this fine book will also be appreciated by lay readers.David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus, Calif.
From the Publisher

"Very persuasive....A major work that deserves the attention of all historians."--Nancy Gordon, Bloomberg Quarterly

"This year's best book for investors."--The New York Times Annual Survey of Books in Business and Economics

"A powerful piece of historical analysis and ought to become part of everyone's framework of understanding."--New Statesman and Society

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195053777
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/7/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 552
  • Lexile: 1230L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Meet the Author

David Hackett Fischer is Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. He has won numerous awards for scholarship and teaching. His many books include the highly acclaimed Paul Revere's Ride.


A professor at Brandeis University, David Hackett Fischer is the author of several noted books on history, including Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, The Great Wave: Price Movements in Modern History, Paul Revere's Ride, and Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. He is co-editor, with James M. McPherson, of the Pivotal Moments in American History series published by Oxford University Press. A graduate of Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities, he divides his time between homes in Massachusetts and Maine.

Author biography courtesy of Oxford University Press.

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    1. Hometown:
      Wayland, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Education:
      A.B., Princeton University, 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1962

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