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Borrow: The American Way of Debt (Vintage Original) Paperback


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Borrow: The American Way of Debt (Vintage Original) + Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture + The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Original
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Original edition (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307741680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307741684
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

We learn from historian Hyman that when debt became a commodity to be bought and sold, it enabled the growth of the twentieth-century economy. Americans increasingly relied on expected future income from wages rather than cash to make consumer purchases. The author traces consumer debt beginning in the 1910s and through the 1920s, when personal loans became legal and mortgages were in demand. After WWII, consumption continued to be financed by debt, particularly television sets. Returning veterans could borrow easily through the VA loan program, and retailers developed revolving-credit programs. As the century progressed, we learn about the rise of discount stores over department stores, loans financed by issuing corporate debt, securitization, and credit cards. Hyman indicates that although policymakers declare the worst of our current financial crisis ended in mid-2009, important causes continue, and he concludes, “Debt, along with every other aspect of capitalism, is something that we have created and have the capacity to master.” This is an excellent book. --Mary Whaley

Review

“An entertaining romp through the history and culture of credit. . . . It's such a great book.”
The Wall Street Journal
 
“Hyman has written a breezy book that goes deeper. . . . an accessible and well-written primer on a vast history, with plenty of cautionary tales for those who would fix what's broken in our financial system, as well as what isn't.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The story of how Americans learned to love debt—and became dangerously addicted to it. Anyone who has ever wondered how we got into the mess we are now in must read this powerful book.”
—Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic

“Stocked with colorful personalities and trenchant insights, Hyman’s lucid, entertaining, and timely treatise illuminates the murky processes by which debt became the troubled center of economic life.”
Publishers Weekly

“An evenhanded account aimed at the general reader baffled by today’s economic crisis. From Model-Ts to TVs to McMansions, Hyman uncovers the credit story behind all the glittering prizes and offers a prescription to prevent the American Dream from turning into the American Nightmare.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Clearly written, carefully researched. . . . Readers will come to understand that credit difficulties are not new. . . [Borrow] offers solutions to this seemingly intractable problem.” 
Library Journal 

“[Borrow] is the sort of mind-blower of a book it’ll likely force you to rethink and reconsider how you see things for a bit. . . . Hyman’s hugely compelling book will ultimately hip you to the fact that the scare-tactic stories about debt and everything else are infinitely, infinitely more complicated than we typically consider. . . . One reads Borrow with a sense of whiplash. . . . Maybe the most necessary nonfiction reading at present.”
The Kenyon Review
 
“This comprehensive—yet extremely readable—history of American attitudes toward credit and debt is fascinating, especially as it stresses how our attitudes toward borrowing have always been undercut by our economy’s relentless need to grow. This is a must-read primer on the American way of buying for anyone who resists economic texts.”
Sacramento News & Review 
 
“A fresh perspective on the epic changes in American culture wrought by consumer finance. . . . Original reporting. . . . Hyman has researched his subject deeply, and his diligence shows.”
The New Republic 
 
“The author traces consumer debt beginning in the 1910s and through the 1920s, when personal loans became legal and mortgages were in demand. After WWII, consumption continued to be financed by debt, particularly television sets. . . . As the century progressed, we learn about the rise of discount stores over department stores, loans financed by issuing corporate debt, securitization, and credit cards. Hyman indicates that although policymakers declare the worst of our current financial crisis ended in mid-2009, important causes continue, and he concludes, ‘Debt, along with every other aspect of capitalism, is something that we have created and have the capacity to master.’ This is an excellent book.”
—Booklist

“Informative and entertaining. . . . Hyman not only traces how consumer debt reached this point but also what might be done to reverse the mess.”
—BookLoons.com  
 
“Informed and articulate. . . . An essential story of the American economy. . . . [Hyman] comprehensively examines the role of debt in shaping the American economy, as well as the rise and recent precipitous decline of the nation’s middle class. . . . A critical academic investigation into an obscure arena of American historiography that has largely been neglected. But it is also an accessible story concerning a timely economic reality of today’s American experience.”
Newark Star-Ledger 
 
“Insightful and brilliant. . . . A fair and balanced historical appraisal of the role of credit in the American economy. . . . This book is a must read for anyone who cares about the state of the economy, and the role that debt plays in both its growth and its economic depressions.”
—Wayne Hurlburt, BlogBusinessWorld 

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Customer Reviews

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I think this is a relevant book for these times.
M. Riley
Updating them and the accompanying text would have been a major project.
John Mccarrier
This will create alternate ways to invest capital profitably.
Nathan B

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joe on February 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
I heard about this book on Marketplace (from APM). While I don't usually buy the books they mention, this one stuck out to me because I didn't know much about how or why we got to rely on credit.

This is a history book about credit. It may not be your cup of tea, but it is articulate, thorough, informative, and very enjoyable for me. For example, did you know that one of the causes of the great depression was over-extension of credit, both consumer (back then installments) and mortgages (also with large amounts of balloon-payments)? Did you realize that Ford and Target both avoided credit for "moral" reasons? It puts into perspective how the rise of the 50s was because of easy financing.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes history and to truly understand why we are where we are. It makes me chuckle now to hear "the good ole days" about credit when many televisions were purchased with it just like they are today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nathan B on August 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
"Don't ask just why Americans borrowed; ask why our financial institutions lent! To avoid this calamity, we must not pretend that by sending some traders to prison we have rectified our economy... The fragile recovery we now enjoy will wilt again as soon as interest rates rise..." (Borrow, p 252)

This book makes a genuine attempt to explain why the foregoing is true. The story of American debt is a surprisingly engaging story; by the time the book becomes technical I was hooked - and when I reached the end I felt like many long standing questions had been answered. For instance, what exactly IS Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Where does the money come from when I swipe my credit card?

The main part of the story begins with Henry Ford and General Motors. Ford opposed debt; GM embraced it - and as a consequence GM was able to expand demand for their cars. The rise of manufacturing meant steady wages; workers wanted consumer goods, from radios to electrical goods. This meant the rise of installment payment in the 1920s.

In this environment balloon mortgages came to be: that is, a mortgage where the buyer pays only interest, deferring the principal. As long as the value of the house goes up, this is fine, and it allows people to buy more home than they could afford otherwise. To come up with capital to fund these mortgages, banks sold Participation Certificates (PC) to investors. PCs were billed as bonds, where the investor would put in a certain amount of money, the principal, and would in return receive interest every month (there were no CDs back then) - but this "bond" was backed by these balloon mortgages. At the end of the PCs term, the investor would receive back his principal -- assuming the underlying mortgage was still good.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Matt Kmety on July 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At 304 pages, this book seemed to drag on a lot longer than I thought. Though it was necessary to lay a foundation based on the history of our debt, the content was quite bland. I enjoy history more than most, but the information seemed like it didn't apply to now. Towards the middle of the book, it all started to come together though. Once the author started getting into more modern times, I became more intrigued. I then saw how the history was relevant to where we are now.

The information and history has added to my knowledge. I was able to get something out of this book which allows me to recommend it as a decent read.
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