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The Great Crash 1929 [Kindle Edition]

John Kenneth Galbraith
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Of Galbraith's classic examination of the 1929 financial collapse, the Atlantic Monthly said:"Economic writings are seldom notable for their entertainment value, but this book is. Galbraith's prose has grace and wit, and he distills a good deal of sardonic fun from the whopping errors of the nation's oracles and the wondrous antics of the financial community." Now, with the stock market riding historic highs, the celebrated economist returns with new insights on the legacy of our past and the consequences of blind optimism and power plays within the financial community.

Editorial Reviews Review

Rampant speculation. Record trading volumes. Assets bought not because of their value but because the buyer believes he can sell them for more in a day or two, or an hour or two. Welcome to the late 1920s. There are obvious and absolute parallels to the great bull market of the late 1990s, writes Galbraith in a new introduction dated 1997. Of course, Galbraith notes, every financial bubble since 1929 has been compared to the Great Crash, which is why this book has never been out of print since it became a bestseller in 1955.

Galbraith writes with great wit and erudition about the perilous actions of investors, and the curious inaction of the government. He notes that the problem wasn't a scarcity of securities to buy and sell; "the ingenuity and zeal with which companies were devised in which securities might be sold was as remarkable as anything." Those words become strikingly relevant in light of revenue-negative start-up companies coming into the market each week in the 1990s, along with fragmented pieces of established companies, like real estate and bottling plants. Of course, the 1920s were different from the 1990s. There was no safety net below citizens, no unemployment insurance or Social Security. And today we don't have the creepy investment trusts--in which shares of companies that held some stocks and bonds were sold for several times the assets' market value. But, boy, are the similarities spooky, particularly the prevailing trend at the time toward corporate mergers and industry consolidations--not to mention all the partially informed people who imagined themselves to be financial geniuses because the shares of stock they bought kept going up. --Lou Schuler


"[A] skilled analysis of that most memorable year in our economic history." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch )

"Most intriguing for its depiction of the delusion that swept the culture, and the ways financiers and bankers, wishful academics and supine regulators willfully ignored reality and in the process encouraged the epic collapse of the stock market." (New York Times )

"Paints a vivid picture of how the supposedly rational capitalist system seemed to lose its collective mind, and it has spooky parallels with what we are witnessing now." (Fortune )

Product Details

  • File Size: 773 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 10, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003ZSIT1Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,361 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy the Kindle version June 25, 2011
Well-written chronicle of the 1929 Wall Street crash; and the key figures and investments that contributed to the market's collapse. JKG's laconic humor makes the book a delightful read.

A negative is that the Kindle version is very poorly copyedited. The electronic version is rife with misspellings, missing words, and other copy errors. Buy the print copy.
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111 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very relevant today February 10, 2002
By Ben R.
Recall the talk before the bust of the "New Economy," in which distended P/E ratios and lack of profits were to be irrelevant. Recall Enron's public proclamations of its stability and projected earnings increases. Keep these in mind as you read The Great Crash, and you will be very, very skeptical of analysts, to say nothing of executives.

Galbraith's theme is that market stability and corporate interests are fundamentally at odds. After pumping up prices by gambling with borrowed money, the financiers and executives simply hope to cash in and make it out alive. In the ensuing crisis, CEOs will never speak evil about their own companies or the condition of the market, so their speech is about as useful to an investor as a pre-game pep talk is to a bettor. Analysts, as well as executives, are salesmen of their own stock, and their primary objective is to get you to buy high.

Galbraith is a talented storyteller, and he highlights themes that are likely to accompany future bubbles so that the reader knows what to be skeptical about. This is a very entertaining read, and if you actively compare what Galbraith tells you of the 20's to what you know about the 90's, you'll likely not be swept away by future investing mania.

* * *

2008 Update:

Having learned a thing or two since I wrote that, I can think of no book better suited to explain our current predicament to the layman. Excessive leverage, housing bubble, financial deregulation, and crony capitalism -- sound familiar? You'll read about this stuff happening back in the '20s and shake your head in disbelief.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the 1929 crash in elegant prose October 29, 2003
Economics, like physics, has a fundamental canon: you cannot make money out of nothing. To narrate the history of financial bubbles is to chronicle those times when people overlooked that fact. In those instances, asset prices soar merely to be resold for profit, with little regard as to their actual value; when something shakes confidence and buyers are in short supply, a crash follows as prices were sustainable only insofar as they could be resold higher.

According to John Galbraith, the stock-market crash that took place in the fall of 1929 was typical of this prototype. Mr. Galbraith, a Harvard economist, traced the optimism to the Florida real-estate bubble of 1925 which made people forget the elementary rules of money making. What follows is an elegant narrative that interweaves economics with history to produce one of the most telling and lucid accounts of the developments, economic and otherwise, that lead up to the October 1929 crash.

The crash, according to Mr. Galbraith, was caused by an admixture of bad income distribution (economy too dependent on luxury spending and investment), bad corporate structure, bad banking structure, foreign imbalances, and bad economic intelligence. In seeking compelling explanations, the "Great Crash" often resists conventional wisdom: for example, to those who blame the abundance of credit, Mr. Galbraith answers: "on numerous occasions before and since credit has been easy, and there has been no speculation whatever." Mr. Galbraith looks beyond central banking and interest rates to compile a rich and diverse history of the 1929 crash.

So what about preventing future crises? Here, Mr. Galbraith is ambivalent. Regulation has and can play a substantial role in preventing future troubles.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Actually Happened in 1929? October 24, 2001
Having just lived through the crash of the dot-com stocks, I thought it was a particularly appropriate moment to reread John Kenneth Galbraith's famous history of the stock market crash of 1929 in the United States. Professor Galbraith's final words prove to be prophetic as he suggests that as soon as the lessons of 1929 are forgotten, the speculative excesses that led to that debacle will recur. I am sure that when the dot-bomb experience is forgotten, it will be repeated with some new class of speculation in some future generation.
With the recent experience of seeing a market mania, I came away more impressed with this book than before. Professor Galbraith does a fine job of capturing the psychology that builds into and sustains a mania. He also writes like a novelist rather than like an economist. That talent makes the message easy to grasp and appreciate.
I was also impressed by how our popular perceptions of 1929 are so often wrong. For example, most people believe that many "broken" speculators committed suicide. Although some did, there was no significant rise in the suicide rate compared to a general trend in that direction.
Economists often like to fault the Federal Reserve for the crash. That blame seems somewhat misplaced when you learn that there was very little government debt that the Fed could repurchase to create liquidity. Had the Fed acted differently, the crash might have come a little sooner and not been quite so severe . . . but the fundamentals would probably not have changed too much.
Another misperception is that everyone was speculating. By even the most generous measures, the speculators probably never numbered over a million people.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I'd hoped
I still do not see how the crash happened. As intelligent as Galbraith was, he didn't acquit himself well with this book.
Published 1 day ago by C. Royal
5.0 out of 5 stars however the telling of what led up to the crash and what happened...
Well, I don't necessarily agree with the position of John Galbraith in his opinion of what was done about the crash by the then president, however the telling of what led up to... Read more
Published 23 days ago by J L W
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Every one should read.
Published 1 month ago by N Reed
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and all too familiar
This is an interesting chronicle of the great crash of 1929. The reasons that Galbraith gives for the crash are almost identical to the reasons that I have read for the recession... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Uncle Davy
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A must read must have
Published 2 months ago by cristiano manfre'
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad
Short and to the point. Good read if you just want a quick layout of what happened in 1929. Would recommend
Published 3 months ago by Dooker
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 3 months ago by William Graveley
4.0 out of 5 stars but he is an excellent writer, and his presentation of some of the ...
I disagree with the author politically, but he is an excellent writer, and his presentation of some of the facts are very revealing; especially the part where he shows how... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Clarinet Buff
5.0 out of 5 stars The delusion of riches for all
This is a story of delusion of the masses on a massive scale.
I don't have a degree in economics, nor am a native english speaker. Read more
Published 6 months ago by G Geradts
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, the parallels between the irrational exuberance of ...
Great book, the parallels between the irrational exuberance of the late 1920s , the 90s tech boom, and 2000s subprime mortgage crisis are stunning. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Pat
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