War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

Overview


The world was wild for gold. After discovering the Americas, and under pressure to defend their vast dominion, the Habsburgs of Spain promoted gold and silver exploration in the New World with ruthless urgency. But, the great influx of wealth brought home by plundering conquistadors couldn’t compensate for the Spanish government’s extraordinary military spending, which would eventually bankrupt the country multiple times over and lead to the demise of the great empire.

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War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

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Overview


The world was wild for gold. After discovering the Americas, and under pressure to defend their vast dominion, the Habsburgs of Spain promoted gold and silver exploration in the New World with ruthless urgency. But, the great influx of wealth brought home by plundering conquistadors couldn’t compensate for the Spanish government’s extraordinary military spending, which would eventually bankrupt the country multiple times over and lead to the demise of the great empire.

Gold became synonymous with financial dependability, and following the devastating chaos of World War I, the gold standard came to express the order of the free market system. Warfare in pursuit of wealth required borrowing—a quickly compulsive dependency for many governments. And when people lost confidence in the promissory notes and paper currencies issued during wartime, governments again turned to gold.

In this captivating historical study, Kwarteng exposes a pattern of war-waging and financial debt—bedmates like April and taxes that go back hundreds of years, from the French Revolution to the emergence of modern-day China. His evidence is as rich and colorful as it is sweeping. And it starts and ends with gold.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/13/2014
The title’s implications aside, this is really a history of money—thoroughly satisfying and remarkably accessible. Aiming to explain today’s international financial turmoil, British historian and Conservative MP Kwarteng (Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World) begins with Spain’s conquest of America and its resultant bonanza of gold and silver. This bullion allowed governments to pay for wars and bolstered the European nation-state, yet it also fostered inflation, deficits, and a vast expansion of paper money—the three sins of classical economics. Centuries of financial bedlam paused during the Victorian era of gold-based stable currency and balanced budgets, but two ruinous world wars resurrected deficits and unprecedented government spending. The 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement revived gold-based discipline, but its end in 1971 led to an explosion of credit, easy money, financial chicanery, the rise of Japan and the European Union(, the spectacular transformation of China, and the continued, if shaky, domination of a pugnacious, free-spending America and its dollar. While John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1975 Money: Whence it Came, Where It Went remains the subject’s touchstone, Kwarteng superbly brings that volume up to date in explaining the almost unexplainable. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land Ltd. (U.K.) (May)
From the Publisher

“One strength is in the lucidity of Kwarteng’s narrative style. War and Gold manages to sweeten the abstruse parts of his monetary history with anecdotes about the major actors.… Kwarteng has a flair for the elegant turn of phrase.”—New York Times Book Review

"War and Gold is a chronicle of fiscal ruination and redemption, with the emphasis on the former… Mr. Kwarteng, a heroic reader, has compiled a wonderful bibliography and gathered a colorful grouping of monetary characters to people his chapters.” —James Grant, Wall Street Journal

“This near-perfect volume appears with almost preternaturally perfect timing around the centenary of the beginning of World War I … War and Gold is a compelling successor to Liaquat Ahamed’s delightful and invaluable The Lords of Finance, awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in history. Kwarteng delivers up a successor volume worthy of such a prize. It extends Ahamed’s temporal framework by a factor of ten, to 500 years. Kwarteng, too, has compelling narrative virtuosity. His book is full of dramatic, charming, often wry vignettes of fascinating characters — heroes and villains, adventurers and knaves — spinning around, and off, the axis of the gold standard, in war and in peace.” Ralph Benko, Forbes.com

“A well-written history of money...It’s refreshing to read such a concise and cutting book” —Jim Landers, Dallas Morning News

"‘War and Gold’ offers fresh, big-picture perspective on issues as tangible as our wallets' contents.” —Alan Wallace, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"The title’s implications aside, this is really a history of money—thoroughly satisfying and remarkably accessible...While John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1975 Money: Whence it Came, Where It Went remains the subject’s touchstone, Kwarteng superbly brings that volume up to date in explaining the almost unexplainable." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Absorbing… a fascinating, lucid and serious history of money, from the discovery of the wealth of the Americas to the present financial crisis.”—The Times (UK)

“Enormously entertaining… so engagingly written that readers of all political persuasions should enjoy it.”—Sunday Times (UK)

“This clever history of money weighs its enduring ability to destabilise society… For people brought up in the internet age, the concept of an economy propped up by a rock, a hill, a mountain of gold might seem quirky. If so, Kwarteng’s detailed tracking of the shift from gold to paper will come as a revelation…. Kwarteng might not know how to stabilise a financial system that floats on credit, but he certainly understands the forces and the mistakes that have led to that destabilisation.”—The Observer (UK)

“Few stones are left unlifted in this study…The result is a retelling from a senior, political, financial viewpoint. It's high table or, to give a more modern description, c-suite stuff.”—The Independent (UK)

“A complicated story well told, from which financial lessons emerge naturally without Kwarteng finding it necessary to bludgeon the reader with his message.” —Financial Times (UK)

“A meaty, thoughtful, and well-written book”—Literary Review

“Kwarteng is thorough and insightful, weaving a narrative that transports the reader convincingly through time and place. He points out that victory has just as much financial cost as defeat.”—London Evening Standard

“Makes a persuasive case for his view that some of the world's key monetary innovations have emerged from the need to meet the requirements of war finance… impeccably researched and skillfully written”—Business Standard

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-14
In Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (2012), conservative Parliament member Kwarteng delivered an impressive chronicle of the long-term effects of British colonial rule. This book, about the economics of war and the use and abuse of the gold standard, is a bit less readable, but still informative, for those not well-versed in economic theory.The author easily explains Robert Peel's theory of balanced budget and sound currency and follows up with Keynes' theory of borrowing and stimulating the economy. With the advent of 20th-century economics, the picture became more convoluted. The theory that war is the greatest influence on fiscal policy was illustrated beginning with the 17th century and the Habsburg's perpetual need to fund their imperialism. While vast, the amount of gold and silver coming from their New World holdings was still not enough, so they had to borrow. Gold is the real story here, as Kwarteng traces the gold supply and who has held it, as well as the development of central banks as the lender of last resort. Funding for wars usually came from increased taxes and customs duties, but borrowing was inevitably the major source of capital. Usually, it came down to the country holding the biggest gold reserves. The British dropped the gold standard with the beginning of World War I in 1914, and gold was pegged to the U.S. dollar at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference. That made the dollar convertible to gold, a dangerous situation that forced President Richard Nixon to close the "gold window" in 1971.Should we return to the gold standard? Has oil taken the place of gold on the world economic stage? Who will be the next big power? Kwarteng does not provide all the answers, but he does give a solid overview of the possibilities.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487683
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/27/2014
  • Pages: 440
  • Sales rank: 125,529
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Kwasi Kwarteng was born in London to Ghanaian parents in 1975. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Harvard University, where he spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar. After completing a PhD in history at Cambridge University, he worked as a financial analyst in London. He is a Conservative member of Parliament and author of Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World. H lives in London, UK.
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