- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 25, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060505125
- ISBN-13: 978-0060505127
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 124 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power Paperback – October 25, 2005
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“Impressive. ... A deft, lively handling of an ambitious project that would have daunted almost any other writer.” (Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton)
About the Author
John Steele Gordon is a columnist for American Heritage and the author of A Thread Across the Ocean, The Great Game, Hamilton's Blessing, and The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in North Salem, New York.
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This isn't one of those.
Mr. Gordon's book is more journalistic than academic, although his research is thorough. He is a native New Yorker both of whose grandfathers owned seats on the New York Stock Exchange, so his grasp of banking and finance is almost genetic. He explains these arcane matters about as clearly as anyone could.
One of his over-arching themes is that America made bad calls when we shut down both the First Bank of the United States (Alexander Hamilton's creation) and the subsequent Second Bank of the United States. There were passionate fights over these institutions involving some of our most famous statesmen and it makes a compelling story. Mr. Gordon argues pretty convincingly that a well-governed central bank could have buffered a lot of the economic misery of the volatile 19th century.
And this isn't just history. The same political controversies continue in our own time over the proper role of the Federal Reserve System, and it's uncanny how closely they follow the old fights between Hamilton and Jefferson more than 200 years ago.
There are plenty of statistics -- they're inescapable in this context -- but he ladles them out as inoffensively as anyone could. And the stats are more than balanced with a host of colorful characters, both heroes and villains. Some are well-known, some obscure, but their stories are all well-told.
Mr. Gordon tends to be sympathetic to the financiers and entrepreneurs he portrays, but he is not uncritical of them. There are plenty of scoundrels and swindlers among them, too, and he doesn't hesitate to call them out.
I bought this and John R.T. Hughes' "American Economic History" at the same time, both in used condition. Hughes' book is actually a text book, and the most current edition runs over $150. I bought an older ed., (hey, it's not like they're rewriting history..., er, yet), as although the book is highly recommended, it is represented as much more in depth than Gordon's book. I paid around $15 for the older edition. I shall review it once I'm done with this book.
If you want to get an education on how America was formed, who made it happen and how things happened, get these two books. I know for my part they shall both be in my permanent library.
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.