… this breezy little book provides an elegant overview of America's early financial battles, and a strong argument that they drove the nation's development. It may sound vaguely Marxist or at least unromantic to view U.S. history through the lens of liquidity; disputes over public debt, the national bank and the gold standard don't sound as dramatic as Washington crossing the Delaware or Lincoln freeing the slaves. But Brands helps the medicine go down by weaving his narrative around five compelling characters: Alexander Hamilton, the treasury secretary who promoted national debt and a national bank; Nicholas Biddle, the national bank president who lost an epic battle to stop Andrew Jackson from killing his powerful institution; and three private financiers -- Jay Cooke, who financed the Union's Civil War effort with his innovative bond schemes; Jay Gould, who nearly ruined the economy by cornering the gold market; and J.P. Morgan, who encouraged collusion among the great industrial trusts and bailed out the treasury when it ran low on gold.
The Washington POst
Brands appraises five key players in American financial history: Alexander Hamilton, who advocated federal assumption of state Revolutionary War debt through the establishment of a national bank; Nicholas Biddle, who presided over the Bank of the United States when it failed under pressure from Andrew Jackson; Jay Cooke, who financed the Union through retail bonds during the Civil War; Jay Gould, who precipitated the Black Friday collapse of gold prices in 1869; and J.P. Morgan, who stabilized the financial panic of 1907. Each man, Brands explains, represented capitalism intertwined but in conflict with democracy. Capitalism promoted free trade and strong financial institutions, while democracy called for protectionism and financial institutions that helped customers instead of making insiders rich. This inherent tension, the author writes, was resolved by the 1913 compromise that created the Federal Reserve System. The author's generalizations, however insightful, make rigid organizing principles, given that different political and economic forces shaped each era. Focusing on one capitalist per episode also distorts the stories, as does lurching from crisis to crisis while glossing over the important consensus developments that occurred in between. Brands (Andrew Jackson) delivers a competent but schematic general history. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A lively and accessible history of a once-dominant issue in American life. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which governs US monetary policy, was a compromise solution to a long and fierce brawl between capitalists and democrats over money-what it is, who should control it and how it shapes the economy. And what a brawl it was. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Andrew Jackson, 2005, etc.) recounts the machinations of figures from Alexander Hamilton and Nicholas Biddle to William Jennings Bryan and J.P. Morgan as they engaged in a wildly careening struggle marked by much oratory, some bribery and motives ranging from noble to nefarious. Beginning with Hamilton's arguments for a national bank, Brands shows how the two camps developed. The capitalists argued for the stability and unity conferred by a centralized, well-managed money supply, while the democrats feared a strong central government as a threat to democracy. Tracing the shifting debate as the nation grew into an industrial power, Brands brings these men to life. We see one-third of the members of Congress profiting as charter shareholders of Hamilton's first Bank of the United States; Philadelphia mobs rioting against the second Bank of the United States, with Biddle, its director, barricading himself at home; and Jay Gould and James Fisk fleeing the financial district for their lives (to an opera house) after cornering the gold market and precipitating Black Friday, in 1869. Hounded but also feted-100,000 people watched Fisk's New York City funeral procession in 1872, while a brass band played-the 19th-century financiers played key roles in the rise of the rail and steel industries, battled Theodore Roosevelt and other progressivesand saw their heyday pass (even as J.P. Morgan died) in 1913, when President Wilson convinced Congress to create 12 privately capitalized Federal Reserve Banks with government oversight. Right on the money.
"[Lloyd James is] always easy to listen to, bringing history alive as stories while avoiding melodrama and making sure the facts come across." AudioFile