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Wealth, War and Wisdom Paperback – October 26, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"Barton Biggs has some offbeat advice for the rich: Insure yourself against war and disaster by buying a remote farm or ranch and stocking it with 'seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc.'

"The ``etc.'' must mean guns.

"'A few rounds over the approaching brigands' heads would probably be a compelling persuader that there are easier farms to pillage,' he writes in his new book, 'Wealth, War and Wisdom.'

"Biggs is no paranoid survivalist. He was chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley before leaving in 2003 to form hedge fund Traxis Partners. He doesn't lock and load until the last page of this smart look at how World War II warped share prices, gutted wealth and remains a warning to investors. His message: Listen to markets, learn from history and prepare for the worst.

"'Wealth, War and Wisdom' fills a void. Library shelves are packed with volumes on World War II. The history of stock markets also has been ably recorded, notably in Robert Sobel's 'The Big Board.' Yet how many books track the intersection of the two?

"The 'wisdom' in the alliterative title refers to the spooky way markets can foreshadow the future. Biggs became fascinated with this phenomenon after discovering by chance that equity markets sensed major turning points in the war.

"The British stock market bottomed out in late June 1940 and started rising again before the truly grim days of the Battle of Britain in July to October, when the Germans were splintering London with bombs and preparing to invade the U.K.

`Epic Bottom'

"The Dow Jones Industrial Average plumbed 'an epic bottom' in late April and early May of 1942, then began climbing well before the U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway in June turned the tide against the Japanese.

"Berlin shares 'peaked at the high-water mark of the German attack on Russia just before the advance German patrols actually saw the spires of Moscow in early December of 1941.'

"'Those were the three great momentum changes of World War II -- although at the time, no one except the stock markets recognized them as such.'

"Biggs isn't suggesting that Mr. Market is infallible: He can get 'panicky and crazy in the heat of the moment,' he says. Over the long haul, though, markets display what James Surowiecki calls 'the wisdom of crowds.'

"Like giant voting machines, they aggregate the judgments of individuals acting independently into a collective assessment. Biggs stress-tests this theory against events that shook nations from the Depression through the Korean War, which he calls 'the last battle of World War II.'

Refresher Course

"Biggs has read widely and thought deeply. He has a pleasing conversational style, an eye for memorable anecdotes and a weakness for Winston Churchill's quips. His book works as a brisk refresher course.

"What really packs a wallop, though, is his combination of military history, market action, maps and charts. It's one thing to say that the London market scraped bottom before the Battle of Britain. It's another to show it.

"In May and June 1940, some 338,000 British and French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk by a flotilla of fishing boats, tugs, barges, yachts and river steamers. The French and Belgian armies had collapsed; the Dutch had surrendered. Britain stood alone, as bombs shattered London and the Nazis prepared to invade. Yet stocks rallied.

"Mankind endures 'an episode of great wealth destruction' at least once every century, Biggs reminds us. So the wealthy should prepare to ride out a disaster, be it a tsunami, a market meltdown or Islamic terrorists with a dirty bomb.

"The rich get complacent, assuming they will have time ``to extricate themselves and their wealth'' when trouble comes, Biggs says. The rich are mistaken, as the Holocaust proves.

"'Events move much faster than anyone expects,' he says, 'and the barbarians are on top of you before you can escape.'"--Bloomberg (Jan. 30)

"Traders unnerved by the harrowing news on offer at this particular moment in history should ease their worried minds with an amble through Barton Biggs' stellar new book, Wealth, War, & Wisdom. Biggs...turns his keen economic historian's eye to the last century's sundry wars, conflicts and other catastrophes to examine how they affected the economies of both the principal combatants and the world at large. The moral of his tale, though hardly radical, is impressively detailed and convincingly argued: A strategy for the long term is the best way for traders (and ordinary investors) to build and maintain wealth...[Biggs'] air of scholarly detachment and lucid prose make Wealth, War & Wisdom worthy as both an economic primer and history seminar."-Trader Monthly, February 2008

“air of scholarly detachment and his lucid prose make [the book] worthy as both an economic primer and history seminar.” (Trader Monthly, March 2008)

“...completely relevant, indeed essential, to predicting the way modern financial markets and the economy will act during uncertain times…” (, Sat 8th March)

“His clear and lively writing style and his deep knowledge of markets and investments will entertain…as well as educate”. (Yahoo Finance, Tuesday 15th April 2008)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Barton Biggs is a brilliant, legendary and world-renowned wise man of finance. In this original and absorbing book, he combines his vast understanding of the world economy with his deep sense of history to bring us new, important and thought-provoking lessons from the crucible experience of World War II."-- Michael Beschloss --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470474793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470474792
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barton Biggs spent thirty years at Morgan Stanley. In that time, he formed the firm's number-one-ranked research department, built up its investment management business, and served as chairman of the investment management firm. At various times during this period, he was ranked as the number one U.S. investment strategist by the Institutional Investor magazine poll and then, from 1996 to 2003, as the number one global strategist. He was also a member of the five-man executive committee that ran the firm until its merger with Dean Witter in 1996. In 2003, Biggs left Morgan Stanley and, with two other colleagues, formed Traxis Partners. Traxis now has well over a billion dollars under its management. Biggs' latest book, Wealth, War, and Wisdom, is also published by Wiley.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Clare Chu on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Barton Biggs does an excellent job of analyzing the interplay between investments and stock exchanges and events in World War II. He details the histories of countries that were victorious, as well as occupied countries and the Axis countries who were the aggressors and then the vanquished. Throughout the book he intersperses the performance of stocks and bonds as they relate to the events of the times.

His thesis is that the stock market is a great anticipator of turning points in the war. Stock prices hit their highs or lows months before conventional wisdom, the press, and even the statesmen and leaders saw a turning point. For example, British market made their lows in June 1940 whereas events were still gloomy and exceedingly pessimistic, with even the survival of Britain in doubt. On the other hand, German stocks peaked before Hitler's attack on Russia was stalled, during a time when many thought taking Russia would be a cakewalk and well before Stalingrad.

These types of correlations can only be obtained by hindsight though, and exceedingly hard for investors to catch the turning point.

The rest of the book reads like a fascinating history of World War II, the battles, the personalities, and the intrigues. Mr. Biggs also portrays the intense human sufferings, and the great loss and destroyer of wealth and livelihood that war inflicts on all its participants. In the last few chapters he gives advice on what to do to prepare for another such type of disaster in the future. Keeping a small farm stocked with food, medicine and automatic weapons that you can use; in a location easily accessible to you, but not too close to major population centers.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a fascinating view of World War II from the perspective of economic investment. However, this is not a technical book in the sense that it is full of charts and graphs. The author, Barton Biggs, is able to fashion his story in an interesting and compelling way that takes us through a compressed telling of the war in Europe and the Pacific while also showing us what it did to the markets here at home and abroad.

Yes, there are charts and graphs, but the text is so compelling that they don't get in the way of those who aren't technically minded, but really help those of us who want to look at the data see the economic impact in the images the author provides.

One of the problems every individual faces in the crushing periods of war is how to preserve and move one's wealth. Barton shows us how people did that in the countries being demolished during the war, as well as in the victorious nations. There is also the problem that nations and politicians face in needing supplies, but wanting to keep individuals and companies from exploiting the war for outsized personal gain.

Of course, while history is interesting in itself, there are also lessons to be learned in how turbulent markets behave and what investors, politicians, and regular folks are likely to do in reacting to the violent and tumultuous changes. Heaven forbid we should ever see such times again, but history's guide informs us that the storms will come again in some guise. This valuable book is worth having and reading for enjoyment, background, and for thinking about today and the future.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Modern Blue Argonaut on January 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
World War II through the eyes of the stock market

The message this book conveys would have been better served if it was written as a collaboration between Mr. Biggs, a WWII historian, and an economist. Mr. Biggs, although he is a WWII enthusiast, and very successful businessman, is writing from his viewpoint, as do all authors, but with such extensive ground covered in only a few hundred pages I feel the book needs better organization, clarity, direction, and further development of his thesis.

If I could have given this book 3 ½ stars I would have in a heartbeat. The book is not deserving of 4 stars based upon the lack of glossary, lack of organization, and the mix of mediocre and outstanding writing. At times the book reads like a historical account of World War II, and at other times economics are discussed but often abruptly introduced as if the author realized he needed to momentarily throw in some economic data before continuing.

I found myself in both agreement and understanding of the authors message, and I know there was a lot of ground to cover in the book, and perhaps that is the reason for the choppiness. Twice in the book Mr. Biggs says, "whatever that means" and as a reader, I would expect that if he introduces a term that at least he would know what it meant and explain it to the readers. I thought that was sloppy writing and he would have been better off just leaving something out if he doesn't know what it means. Also once he uses his own company as his information source.

I enjoyed the historical quips, and found Winston Churchill to have a very impressive wit all throughout the book. I also learned more about Hitler as a person that I had previously known.
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