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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, ...
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 thought-provoking book is about much more than the 1944 conference that established the architecture of the postwar international monetary system, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank."—Foreign Affairs
"Benn Steil has crafted a fine history. . . . Characterized by fine and entertaining writing, The Battle of Bretton Woods is economic and political history in engrossing detail."—Satyajit Das, Naked Capitalism
"Benn Steil provides a well-researched and interesting account of the historic monetary conference. . . . His efforts make for an enjoyable read. . . . Steil is perhaps at his best when articulating how the Bretton Woods system differed from the classical gold standard—a difference that would ultimately lead to the failure of Bretton Woods. . . . Steil's excellent book should serve as a gentle reminder of which monetary systems have worked well in the past—and which should not be repeated."—William J. Luther, SSRN's Economic History eJournal
"An informed citizenry includes an understanding of our economy and how it is integrated into the global financial system. For this, it is important to start from the . . . discussions that occurred among 44 nations in the idyllic and calm resort at Bretton Woods, N.H., in 1944. [Benn Steil's] new book details not only the meeting but the deep arguments between the British economist John Maynard Keynes and [American Treasury official] Harry Dexter White. . . . This is a serious book of political economic history."—Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, DCMilitary
"Benn Steil's book provides a fascinating account of the developments leading up to the Bretton Woods conference and its immediate aftermath, from the point of view of the two main characters involved: John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White. The book is based on extensive archive work, so often the participants speak for themselves, which makes for interesting reading."—Isaac Alfon, Central Banking Journal
"This masterful account dismantles the idyllic picture of the 1944 Bretton Woods international economic conference, situating it firmly in the tense atmosphere of the final months of World War II."—Laurie Muchnick, Bloomberg Top Business Books of 2013
"Steil's book is an object lesson in how to make economic history entertaining and instructive."—Tony Barber, Financial Times
"Benn Steil not only produces the finest account of the conference that established the Pax Americana economic system after World War II, he does it with the skill of a novelist."—Jon Talton, SeattleTimes.com
"[A] well-documented, engaging account of the Bretton Woods Conference. . . . The material on Harry Dexter White is fascinating . . . an essential reference [with] much to teach economic historians."—Joshua Hausman, Journal of Economic History
"The Battle of Bretton Woods is a thorough and fascinating account of a historic event, skillfully placed in its economic and geopolitical context. [H]e offers excellent insight into the tribulations of the key players. He also tells the interesting tale of how, if not for the well-founded suspicions regarding Harry Dexter White's cooperation with Communist spies, the tradition of an American heading the World Bank and a European heading the IMF would have been reversed."—Martin S. Fridson, Financial Analysts Journal
"Steil's book is essential reading for students of multilateralism, diplomacy, and international economic relations. . . . It is also an excellent overview of the behind-the-scenes machinations that caused Britain to agree to the final document that placed America, and the dollar, at the top of the global financial pyramid. . . . [O]f primary interest to most readers . . . it is a fascinating and nuanced glimpse into the psychology of Second World War era economic espionage."—Marc D. Froese, International Journal
"This story is well told. It is also well known. . . . Steil is targeting a broader audience than scholars, however, and in that sense, this book is a success at recasting a surprisingly exciting story."—Thomas W. Zeiler, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"Steil breathes new life and controversy into a familiar story by emphasizing the intellectual and political clash between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White."—James McAllister, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable
"Steil rarely puts a foot wrong. His analysis of policies and personalities, however he has acquired his knowledge, reflects a sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of financial diplomacy."—Stephen Schuker, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable
"[A]n ably crafted narrative."—Darel Paul, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable
"[The book] is a welcome departure from less political, or more American-centric, accounts of Bretton Woods."—William Glenn Gray, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable
"[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
Posted May 21, 2014
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.