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The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis Paperback – December 12, 2013
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John Lauritz Larson, Purdue University
"In this compelling and moving account Jessica Lepler shows us how a bank war could undermine British faith in American borrowers and cause a cascade of doubts about America's future. The chain of debt is the same as five years ago, although the vividly drawn cast of characters is radically different. Compulsively readable, this will change the way you think about the intimate relationship between slavery and capitalism."
Scott Nelson, The College of William and Mary
"The Many Panics of 1837 is a gripping narrative about what happened to disrupt financial markets and individual investors in 1837. But Lepler has also given us a theoretically deft account of how the history of this year has been written and why its many iterations matter. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in how we construct the past and how the past we construct shapes what we can know about the world we inhabit now."
Mary Poovey, Samuel Rudin Professor in the Humanities, New York University
"Lepler combines financial, business and economic history with social, cultural and political history in a transnational context in The Many Panics of 1837 to demonstrate that human agency remains at the heart of seemingly large impersonal forces. Lepler argues persuasively in this well-written tale of three cities that the transition from the best of times to the worst of times explains the psychology of what was so panicky about the panic of 1837 ... I have already adopted this book for use in my class on the early American republic."
Michael J. Gagnon, The Journal of American History
"... offers cultural context for the Panic of 1837 that earlier treatments have lacked. Navigating impressively through a wealth of business correspondence and private letters of various merchants and financiers, large and small, as well as the contemporary press, Lepler paints a vivid picture of the thoughts that passed through the minds of individuals as their fortunes took a fateful turn in the spring of that year ... Lepler makes the complex interactions of this market easy to understand."
Peter L. Rousseau, EH.net
"Lepler defines the heretofore poorly understood Panic of 1837 in terms of human emotional response ... productive, historically grounded examinations of the ways in which feelings and ideas made and were remade by the history of finance ... draw[s] on ideas, culture, politics, business, institutions, law, and economics ... acknowledge[s] 'real' economic change, while insisting that this change is bound up with changes in subjectivity."
Hannah Farber, Enterprise and Society
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Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately, Lepler couples her valuable contributions with noticeable flaws. The first involves errors and omissions. Despite her familiarity with several sophisticated economic analyses, she seems to have never mastered the fundamental principles available in more basic economic texts. She does stress how ubiquitous credit was in 19th-century commerce, yet Lepler never fully grasps its vital role in the allocation of savings. And in her extensive examination of information's impact on the development and spread of panic, she could have profited from Friedrich Hayek's insight into the role of markets in revealing information. Lepler even believes that economists are oblivious to the obvious fact that aggregates such as Gross Domestic Product result from "a nearly infinite number of individual choices." These and other lapses lead her to a thinly disguised disdain for economics as a discipline.
The book exhibits some historical lacunae as well. It is undoubtedly a bit churlish to complain that such a well-researched account overlooks some important works. Nonetheless, I was surprised to discover Lepler's reliance on the popular, superficial biography of Van Buren written by Clinton speechwriter Ted Widmer.Read more ›
I did find the first two chapters difficult because her style in those two chapters show a certain "flippant" attitude. I don't know if she meant to produce something that would seem more light and conversational, but I found it off-putting.
I have not seen her dissertation, so I can't judge the differences between it and this publication, but if you can make it through the initial chapters, the book becomes more focused and interesting.
You can see in this work the start of a very interesting career for an historian who should only improve as she accumulates a deeper understanding of 19th Century views on business.
I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to understand how Americans dealt with one of the great financial downturns in our economic history.