The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Orderby Benn Steil
When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for 'a new Bretton Woods' to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for
When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for 'a new Bretton Woods' to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil's epic account.
Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival. At the heart of the drama were the antipodal characters of John Maynard Keynes, the renowned and revolutionary British economist, and Harry Dexter White, the dogged, self-made American technocrat. Bringing to bear new and striking archival evidence, Steil offers the most compelling portrait yet of the complex and controversial figure of White--the architect of the dollar's privileged place in the Bretton Woods monetary system, who also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years.
A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.
"[T]his is a beautiful narrative of the making of Bretton Woods, based on serious archival research and with some nice old photos as illustrations."Ivo Maes, History of Economic Ideas
"The Battle of Bretton Woods is a remarkable work that embraces many disciplines: economic history, political economy and international relations. Benn Steil is able to merge the different perspectives from all these disciplines, taking the reader into both the political battle and the economic thinking."Anna Missiaia, Financial History Review
"A gripping account. . . . John Le Carre meets international monetary history: this is clearly a different kind of page-turner."Jayati Ghosh, Economic & Political Weekly
"The Battle of Bretton Woods is a remarkable work that embraces many disciplines: history, economic history, political economy and international relations. Benn Steil is able to merge the different perspectives from all these disciplines, taking the reader into both the political battle and the economic thinking that took place at Bretton Woods."Anna Missiaia, Financial History Review
"Epic."Ashok Rao, Vox
"[E]ngaging and instructive . . . Benn Steil has written a book full of historical insight and human color."Robert L. Hetzel, Econ Focus
"[A] good piece of historical investigation that will put an end to doubts as to whether White was in fact a Soviet agent."Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, Economica
"[A] thoughtful and well-researched addition to economic history."Mark L. Wilson, Journal of Economic Issues
"With extensive, original research, Benn Steil has rewritten the history of the conference. Steil reveals the illusions of its two central figures: John Maynard Keynes, the most famous economist of the twentieth century and a senior member of the British delegation, and Harry Dexter White, the little-known assistant secretary of the US Treasury, who almost singlehandedly ran the conference. . . . A major contribution to economic, intellectual, and political history, which is accessible to a wide audience and presents an endlessly fascinating portrait of two complicated men."Carl, Strikwerda, The Historian
"Benn Steil's The Battle of Bretton Woods is a superb, carefully researched history that enables readers to view today and tomorrow from the vantage point of the past."Robert B. Zoellick, International Economy
"The Battle of Bretton Woods offers a tantalizing peek into another time of financial stress compounded by a world war. . . . The chess match between White and Keynes is well worth the price of admissionthe price of the book and the time it takes to read it."Don R. Leet, American Economist
"The Battle of Bretton Woods is a well-researched and excellently written book that is recommended for everyone interested in economic and diplomatic history."Tobias Leeg, Political Studies Review
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Meet the Author
Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, Money, Markets, and Sovereignty, was awarded the 2010 Hayek Book Prize.
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If you're interested in history or economics, this book is fun to read. There are details about background conversations and activities at the Bretton Woods conference. I am not an economist and don't understand much beyond the basics, but the author explained things very well. It's a big book, but the writing is so tight that it moves along nicely.