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Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World

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Overview


Tower of Basel is the first investigative history of the world?s most secretive global financial institution. Based on extensive archival research in Switzerland, Britain, and the United States, and in-depth interviews with key decision-makers?including Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve; Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; and former senior Bank for International Settlements managers and officials?Tower of Basel tells the inside story of the Bank for International ...
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Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World

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Overview


Tower of Basel is the first investigative history of the world’s most secretive global financial institution. Based on extensive archival research in Switzerland, Britain, and the United States, and in-depth interviews with key decision-makers—including Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve; Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; and former senior Bank for International Settlements managers and officials—Tower of Basel tells the inside story of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS): the central bankers’ own bank.

Created by the governors of the Bank of England and the Reichsbank in 1930, and protected by an international treaty, the BIS and its assets are legally beyond the reach of any government or jurisdiction. The bank is untouchable. Swiss authorities have no jurisdiction over the bank or its premises. The BIS has just 140 customers but made tax-free profits of $1.17 billion in 2011–2012.

Since its creation, the bank has been at the heart of global events but has often gone unnoticed. Under Thomas McKittrick, the bank’s American president from 1940–1946, the BIS was open for business throughout the Second World War. The BIS accepted looted Nazi gold, conducted foreign exchange deals for the Reichsbank, and was used by both the Allies and the Axis powers as a secret contact point to keep the channels of international finance open.

After 1945 the BIS—still behind the scenes—for decades provided the necessary technical and administrative support for the trans-European currency project, from the first attempts to harmonize exchange rates in the late 1940s to the launch of the Euro in 2002. It now stands at the center of efforts to build a new global financial and regulatory architecture, once again proving that it has the power to shape the financial rules of our world. Yet despite its pivotal role in the financial and political history of the last century and during the economic current crisis, the BIS has remained largely unknown—until now.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Hirsh
…there are good reasons to tell the full story of the bank, and LeBor, a journalist based in Budapest, does a creditable job in this well-researched account. The B.I.S. offers up a lesson in the amorality of finance and the need for greater accountability in international capital flows…
Publishers Weekly
Budapest-based journalist and literary critic Lebor (Hitler’s Secret Bankers) offers a critical history of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), a complex financial enterprise founded in 1930 and located in Basel, Switzerland, that serves the world’s central banks. Claiming access to new sources and insider information, Lebor exposes the wheeling, dealing, and often nefarious activities of global investment bankers. The book explores the “massive capital movements” worldwide before and after WWII that anticipated today’s globalized economy, and highlights the bank’s relationship to both Nazi Germany and postwar Germany. Lebor calls the BIS today an “opaque, elitist, and anti-democratic institution, out of step with the twenty-first century.” Though this lively account too often resorts to the incriminating tone of investigative reporting, the historical and contemporary power of the secretive BIS will surprise and alarm readers. While the BIS’s past deeds are gamy and its operations today are “shadowy,” central banking mechanisms and international monetary networks exist for good reasons. As one of the bankers interviewed suggests, the BIS could serve an important future role in keeping the euro intact. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, William Morris Agency. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
Searching, provocative history of the most secretive--and globally influential--of Swiss banks, "the most important bank in the world and predates both the IMF and the World Bank." Ben Bernanke is a governor, as is the head of the Bank of England, the head of the Bank of China and the heads of the central banks of Germany, Brazil and Spain. Altogether, 60-odd banks make up the membership of the Bank for International Settlement, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland--a town specifically chosen for its quiet and orderliness. Financial journalist LeBor (The Believers: How America Fell for Bernard Madoff's $65 Billion Investment Scam, 2010, etc.) traces the evolution of the bank from useful instrument of establishing international financial stability in post–World War I Europe to an amoral institution that is closely implicated in both the establishment of the euro zone and its fraying at the zone's edges in places like Greece, Cyprus and Spain. In the time between, the BIS, by LeBor's account, was politically evenhanded in all the wrong ways: Although putatively one of the "new multilateral institutions run by apolitical technocrats," its directors in fact gave information to the Third Reich on Allied logistics (and vice versa), even as the bank served as a bulwark of capitalism in the Cold War--and even if the combatant nations were moving funds back and forth among themselves. Particularly in the latter sections dealing with the unification of the currency and the sink-or-swim social Darwinism of austerity, LeBor's account has a bit of a conspiracy-theory feel to it, but one backed up by solid reporting and interviews with bank players, all that Swiss secrecy notwithstanding. The author closes with recommendations for how the bank could better serve the world instead of itself, including greater transparency and lifting the "legal inviolability" accorded to it by international treaty. Wonkish at times, but a real eye-opener.
From the Publisher

“[Lebor] does a creditable job in this well-researched account.” New York Times Book Review

“It’s a story of financial intrigue, secrets and lies, rumor and truth. LeBor, a business journalist (he’s also the author of several thrillers), knows how to make a true story about finance as thrilling as any spy novel. A highly entertaining and informative book about the most powerful bank you’ve probably never heard of.” Booklist

“Lebor exposes the wheeling, dealing, and often nefarious activities of global investment bankers…Lively… The historical and contemporary power of the secretive BIS will surprise and alarm readers.” Publishers Weekly

“An absorbing and thorough examination of one of the world’s most important yet opaque institutions.” Reuters

“Adam LeBor has written an absolutely fascinating history of the BIS, perhaps the most enigmatic financial institution in the world. The story he unveils of the many skeletons in its closet and its astounding ability to remake itself periodically only add to its mystique.” — Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

Edward Lucas, author of Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage TodayTower of Basel is essential reading. Meticulously researched and fluently written, it reveals a slice of the modern world’s untold history—a gripping tale of covert networks, secret deals and unaccountable, powerful individuals whose decisions shape our lives.”

Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World“Adam LeBor has written an absolutely fascinating history of the BIS, perhaps the most enigmatic financial institution in the world. The story he unveils of the many skeletons in its closet and its astounding ability to remake itself periodically only add to its mystique.”

Harold James, professor of history and international affairs, Princeton University, and author of Making the European Monetary Union

“Compelling reading—a masterly depiction of the role of the BIS in the Nazi period and Second World War.”

Booklist

“It’s a story of financial intrigue, secrets and lies, rumor and truth. LeBor, a business journalist (he’s also the author of several thrillers), knows how to make a true story about finance as thrilling as any spy novel. A highly entertaining and informative book about the most powerful bank you’ve probably never heard of.”

Reuters Breaking Views

“An absorbing and thorough examination of one of the world’s most important yet opaque institutions”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610392549
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 400,405
  • Product dimensions: 6.68 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author


Adam LeBor is an author, journalist, and literary critic based in Budapest. He writes for The Economist, The Times (London), Monocle, and numerous other publications, and also reviews books for the New York Times. He has been a foreign correspondent since 1991, covering the collapse of communism and the Yugoslav wars, and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is the author of seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including the ground-breaking Hitler’s Secret Bankers, and two novels. His books have been published in twelve languages.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    Wonderful history of 20th century Europe during the war years and beyond

    A well researched & well written and book on a bank you never heard that has had great influence over our lives for generations. This bank financed Hitler's industrialization of Nazi Germany during the 1930s and his plunder of European gold during the war. Many Nazi war criminals went on to run the bank after the war and lead Europe out of economic starvation. The bank is even stronger today. If you love history you will love this book. Five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2013

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