143 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and enjoyable biography of the American Economy
Forests have been cleared for all the books that have been written on American History. While a few stand out from the pack, it is harder to find one that is fresh, interesting, and informative. "An Empire of Wealth" is all of those things and I strongly recommend it to you. Instead of being a military, political, or diplomatic history, John Steel Gordon has written an...
Published on October 15, 2004 by Craig Matteson
18 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice introduction to economic history, good writing, but look elsewhere for depth!
John Gordon's history is a good introduction to economics and its influence in America since 1776. Recommended as a start for a novice interested in the US's achievements and success that has generated it current tremendous economic power.
My only negative opinion is this: the book, as other reviewers here have allude to, glosses over and even completely...
Published on September 14, 2005 by Lou Min
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143 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and enjoyable biography of the American Economy,
He begins with the resource rich, but hostile wilderness that the early explorers found. The British made the first permanent settlement at Jamestown in what is now Virginia. The settlers had come for gold, found mica that they mistook for gold ore, and only 38 of the 105 survived the first winter. They kept coming from England and they kept struggling until they began to grow and export tobacco. Mr. Gordon then takes us on a fast paced, and amazing journey through the nation's founding, the movement west, our major wars, depressions, and the rise (and fall) of technologies such as steam, the railroads, machine supported agriculture, banking, and international trade. He ends the book with the horrible events we experienced on September 11, 2001.
Not only is this a fun read for anyone interested in American History, it would be a fine addition to the history readings for high school or college students. I especially like the author's honesty about the good and the bad in our history without making us the bad guys or the source of all pain and suffering on the planet. The reader comes away with a richer understanding of our history and feels good about our place in the world.
The book has a particularly nice bibliography in addition to the chapter notes. The readings offered in the bibliography would enrich anyone and I also urge you to look at them and read as many as you can. There is also an index to help you find certain topics. (I am a big fan of indexes and cannot understand any modern book without one - given how easily computers can create them and allow the editor to work them into something useful. Yet, we still get books without indexes because people think they will be more popular. What I want is useful!)
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very pleasantly surprised...,
It is anything but. Gordon's effort is downright gripping, a compelling read chock full of information. Gordon has a knack for finding the most intriguing aspects of history and explaining difficult concepts in a manner that is quickly grasped. He is able to get to the heart of a concept without dragging along pedantic baggage. His writing is flawless and the raw historical material is seamlessly synthesized with consummate professionalism.
Gordon wraps his discussion of larger economic themes around the impact that invention, infrastructural development, and politics had on the burgeoning American economy. Examples include the Erie Canal, road and railroad building, the cotton gin, or the bessemer furnace.
From an "ideological" perspective, Gordon falls into the typical free-market, pro-deficit camp, which is consistent with the vast majority of economists today. However, he is far from dogmatic or simplistic, as some reviewers maintain. He acknowledges that unregulated capitalism is "red in tooth and claw" but that labor unions have overstepped their bounds, for example. Gordon devotes much time to the monopolies, oligopolies and collusion of post- Civil War America. At the same time, he fairly points out that not all political attempts to defang raw capitalism were the panaceas so keenly hoped-for.
A nice feature of Gordon's approach is his recognition of less-appreciated historical actors. For example, he gives the much-derided Hoover some credit for helping make possible the New Deal, insofar in that he tried every means possible short of big-government alphabet-soup to stem the growing depression. FDR would not have been able to introduce his heavy-handed methods, Gordon contends, without voter experience with Hoover's more gradualist and ultimately ineffective policies.
The author narrates far too much in "Empire of Wealth" to describe here in detail, but particularly stellar is Gordon's discussion of money supply, deficits, trade balances, the role of a national bank, Northern vs. Southern economies, income tax, the history and role of Wall Street and the pernicious boom-and-bust cycle engendered by Jeffersonian opposition to Hamilton's central bank.
"Empire of Wealth" surpassed all of my expectations. Gordon's effort is a surprisingly enjoyable and very necessary history that will not disappoint.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, Well written, fast paced and informative,
This was a very well written book. I initially picked it up from the library, and then purchased a copy to add to my library.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American history of the perspective of economic activity,
There were three major economic crises in the first two hundred years. The first was the aftermath of the revolution for independence. Since most of the colonial trade was with England and many of the wealthy were opposed to freedom from England, there was a major economic downturn after the war ended. Many types of currency were in circulation and the new country was an economic basket case. Fortunately for the future of the country, there was a person who knew how to solve the problem and had the stature to carry it out. That man was Alexander Hamilton and his program of establishing and funding a national debt was a resounding success. In 1789 the United States government was financially insolvent, yet five years later it had the highest credit rating in Europe. Hamilton also established a central bank, which served as a financial anchor for the nation as long as it existed. Gordon gives Hamilton his due credit for this, noting some of the opposition by other founding fathers who couldn't fathom it and what it has meant for the country since then.
The second major crisis was much more long term, namely the abolition of the central bank by Andrew Jackson. His actions led to the deepest and lengthiest economic depression that the country has ever seen. The early years of the 1830's were a boom time, all government debt had been retired and there was a revenue surplus. His executive order in 1837 requiring land be paid for in gold and silver led to a banking collapse, interest rates skyrocketed and in less than a year, 90 percent of the nation's factories were closed. The bottom of this depression was not reached until six years after Jackson's order. As Gordon points out, the lack of a central bank was a problem that continued to fester until the Federal Reserve System was established in 1913. Even then it was not up to the task and it was the depression of the 1930's that led to the changes that molded it into the form we know today. It can be argued that the greatest single mistake ever made by an American president was Andrew Jackson's destruction of the central bank.
The third major crisis was the great depression of the 1930's. What made it so much more devastating than the depression of the 1830's were the different demographics of the country. In 1930, a much larger percentage of the people worked in factories and fewer could rely on subsistence agriculture to survive. It was also a time when there were political alternatives that seemed more effective. Fascism appeared to have solved many of the problems in Germany and Italy and the communist façade of success in the Soviet Union was attractive to many.
What makes this book outstanding is how Gordon treats problems such as these, in explaining the causes and why the solutions worked. It is easy to see many of the reasons why the United States has grown to economic dominance, such as an abundance of natural resources, very low military spending for most of time, the large influx of a labor force determined to succeed and a legal system that protected individual rights.
One other fundamental lesson that can be derived from the book is the value of targeted government spending and support for critical infrastructure. The Erie Canal and the transcontinental railroad were both incredible achievements that cost a great deal but returned enormous economic advantages. Fully one-third of the capital in New York was used to fund the Erie Canal, yet it took less than ten years for this debt to be paid off. Government support was critical in steering those projects to success, and we also have the modern example of the Internet.
To many, the rise of the economic power of the United States was inevitable. As Gordon points out, that is probably, but not necessarily the case. In any case, this is an epic history of the rise of American economic power.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Colonization through Reaganization"... excellent,
Major strengths in this book:
* How the original American colonies were established and grew economically. Have NEVER seen this material so well put together. It's an economic genealogy of the states.
* How changes in transportation and manufacturing impacted economic development (rivers and canals, steamboats and railroads, steam engines and cotton gins, etc.) LOTS of insight here.
* How the American economy went through not one or two but many recurring depressions over time. Good treatment of differing policies of presidents and congresses. Good treatment of historical conflict about having a central Bank of the United States. IMPORTANT changes in American mindset here.
* Good review of changes in money. This was a wild and crazy topic in American practice.
* How the American economy went from few to many stockholders. Good treatment of changes in regulation and deregulation.
* Good start on oil. How it came in. How it became dominant.
* Depth of treatment suffers after Reagan era. No mention of Clinton or Bush(es) even though book is copyright 2004.
* The switch from nuts and bolts topics like steam engines to abstract topics like fiscal policy could use more elaboration. This is a valuable and critical point he's making in the history of the country's mindset and it needs more treatment.
* Treatment of computers and internet lacks subtle analysis and is "gee whiz" - would like the author to apply same depth of thinking here as he applied discussing impacts of earlier technologies.
There is a bit of "rah rah" especially at the end, however it is not a major distraction.
The comprehensiveness and insightfulness of the material from Colonization through Reaganization is excellent. I know there are conflicting opinions about politics but savvy citizen investors and consumers need to understand economics and the economy. Gordon helps us do that.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great insight on almost every page,
A great story of people, culture, technology, money, and a country - this book truly deserves its high rating.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schumpeter plus capitalist triumphalism,
I was disappointed, however, with the author's treatment of the Great Depression. No mention is made of the fact that the 1929 stock market crash was transformed into the Depression, because the Federal Reserve under Treasury Secretary and ex officio Board Chairman Andrew Mellon refused to increase bank reserves for four years thus nearly destroying the banking system the Federal Reserve was created to preserve. And that his successor, John Eccles, appointed by Roosevelt turned the economy around in 1934 by increasing bank reserves by 50 percent in 1933, then 25 percent in 1934, and then another 25 percent in 1935. Schumpeter had a better appreciation than Gordon does of economic institutions.
I also found the book's title misleading. When I saw the term "empire", I expected more about how the U.S. influences international politics and especially the other great powers of the world. There is little about empire until Gordon's last chapter where he describes the Soviet Union as the last of the old-fashioned empires based on military force in contrast to the American "empire" based on wealth. In fact I still don't know just how he applies the term "empire" to this nation or its world situation.
Thomas J. Hickey, Econometrician
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well-written, but misses important stuff,
I highly recommend that after reading this fine book, everyone looks up Jeff Madrick's fantastic review essay from the New York Review of Books (V 52, # 4, 03/10/05). He makes some excellent points that need to be considered along with Gordon's book.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutly Fabulous,
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well written history book,
The real problem with the book for me was that there was no major theme proposed to unite this broad look. Topics were covered in chronological order with not much logical connection beyond the preceding few pages. Maybe that's the point of the history of America's economy - it has no unifying theme other than progress.
At times Mr. Gordon did interject his love of unions and big government, even in the face of historical evidence to their detriment. Thankfully these minor defects did not ruin an otherwise well written book.
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Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power (P.S.) by John Steele Gordon (Paperback - October 25, 2005)