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A Short History of Financial Euphoria (Penguin business) Paperback – July 1, 1994

4.4 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The renowned Harvard economist examines reckless speculative episodes in American financial history.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

No matter what your political leanings or economic beliefs might be, there is no denying that Galbraith is a brilliant writer. In this humorous and thoughtful book, he traces the investor "herd" mentality from Tulipomania, which gripped Holland in the 1630s, through a variety of events and up through the 1987 stock market debacle--which he accurately predicted. Galbraith analyzes the crashes that resulted from these speculative episodes, and he points out that the "mass escape from sanity by people in pursuit of profit," which, in his opinion, is always the cause, is never blamed. A truly excellent book, this is highly recommended.
- C. Christopher Pavek, Putnam, Hayes & Bartlett, Inc. Information Ctr., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin business
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140238565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140238563
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #394,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
IN THIS SMALL but witty and well-crafted book, Galbraith chronicles the major speculative episodes, from the seventeenth-century tulipmania to the junk-bond follies of the eighties. The book was first published in 1990 and thus the recent dotcom-bubble burst is not covered. Nevertheless, the Harvard professor's book is still worth reading. A reason is that he claims to have identified common patterns in the history of financial euphoria. `In small ways the history of the great speculative boom and its aftermath does change. Much, much more remains the same', he predicts.
The perennial features are these. Some seemingly new and desirable artifact or development captures the financial imagination of a large number of people (say, group 1). The arrival of tulips in Western Europe, gold in Louisiana, the advent of joint-stock companies (corporations), real estate in Florida, or the economic designs of Reagan are all examples. The price of the object of speculation goes up. The object when bought today is worth more tomorrow. This attracts new buyers and assures a further price increase. Those in group 1 are persuaded that the new price-enhancing circumstance is under control, and expect the market to stay up and go up, perhaps indefinitely. The individual or institution that discovered the novelty (in group 2) is thought to be ahead of the mob. Fewer in number, individuals of group 2 perceive the speculative mood of the moment, try to get the maximum reward from the increase as it continues, and plan to be out before the eventual crash. The affluence of group 2 is wrongly associated, by group 1, with a miraculous financial genius. When something triggers the ultimate reversal, group 2 decides now is time to get out. Group 1 finds its illusion abruptly destroyed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Galbraith's wonderful little book (Only 110 pages) is a quick guided tour -- with pithy analysis interspersed throughout -- of get-rich-quick movements, and, more importantly, the foolish thinking BEHIND such phenomena. Galbraith takes the reader on brief tours of some of the more notorious financial booms-gone-bad, such as the "Tulip Craze" in Holland and the Banque Royale bust in France in the 1600's, the South Seas "Bubble" of the 1700's, and, more importantly, the numerous episodes throughout American financial history, from Colonial times through the busts of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1907, 1929 -- and 1987 (Galbraith's book was first published in 1990 -- ten years before the dot-com bust....). The source of these rush-to-riches-gone-sour, argues Galbraith, rests on several ever-consistent, historically re-occurring causes: First, the quest for leverage (i.e. generating more funds than having the means to actually support them) and lavish debt spending; Second, the pathological, recurrent inability of the financial world to learn from the past; Third, the silly notion that the possession of wealth is directly equal to a persons' intelligence (Wealthy individuals, contends Galbraith, are not rich because of brains, but more often through chance and circumstance -- a fact the public ignores at their own peril); Fourth, the incessant human desire to become affluent by the easiest means possible; Fifth, the 'religious' quality Americans consistently perscribe to "the market," i.e. that free enterprise is 'perfect' -- Corruption, loss, and falling markets are due only to "outside forces" (Like 'evil CEO's' or 'government intervention') -- rather than the public's endless supply of gullibility, culpability, and simple greed.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Galbraith paints a picture of the episodes of financial euphoria that allow one to see the seeds of the next bubble being planted. What Galbraith points out are the common themes of market bubbles. In the end, the same script is run as we hear that "this time is different" Although published in 1990, this reads like an epilogue to the tech/internet bubble of 1999-2000. The old saying goes that "what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history." Galbraith gives us the tools to learn from history. In an age of books like "Dow 36,000" and other mania induced work, this classic is a reality touchstone for all serious, sophisticated investors - individual and institutional alike. I would rate this book as a **********, but am limited to ***** (5 stars).
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Format: Paperback
Reading about the history of speculation is a way to broaden one's critical views of investing. Galbraith presents the material in an entertaining way and doesn't oversell the important points he makes about mass psychology and market reform. His self-deprecatory moments are very engaging indeed. I would go so far as to suggest that this book should be required reading for any investor.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book, but if you're looking for specific details about a given crisis, such as the Great Depression, you're going to be disappointed. Galbraith is looking at a bigger picture. He's writing about a pattern of crises -- a gestalt -- where the whole clearly transcends the explanations advanced for each of its parts. Viewed from that perspective, the author reveals an astonishing similarity in how such periods of financial euphoria followed by crisis keep recurring -- and how, after the fact, all the experts come out of the woodwork happy to explain why it happened. That is profound.

Patterns tell a story not recognizable from studying the specific events. As we've all observed in our interpersonal dealings, most people can readily explain their behavior on a given occasion, say, getting in a fistfight, but can't explain their habit of getting in fights. The same applies to history's many wars. A study of the facts and circumstances underlying the "War of the Roses" (1455-1485) may explain who were the good guys and who the bad guys, but it can't explain why mankind keeps getting into wars.

This book explains a historical pattern of booms and busts. In light of the Financial Crisis of 2008, it's arguably more pertinent today than it was when published in 1994. I'm currently reading Matt Taibbi's, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap" (2014). The author clearly thinks 2008 revealed a huge criminal conspiracy, witness the fact that he uses the word "fraud" at least 100 times. Other books such as Christopher Hayes's "Twilight of the Elites" beat the same drum.

While such demagoguery is appealing, I'm still going with Galbraith: It seems nobody ever sees a crash coming, including the greedy participants at the heart of it. You can say the mortgage bubble was wrong, but it's the same kind of wrong that caused thousands of people to spend crazy amount of money on a single tulip bulb 370 years ago.
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