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An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power Paperback – October 25, 2005
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He begins with the resource rich, but hostile wilderness that the early explorers found. The British made the first permanent settlement at Jamestown in what is now Virginia. The settlers had come for gold, found mica that they mistook for gold ore, and only 38 of the 105 survived the first winter. They kept coming from England and they kept struggling until they began to grow and export tobacco. Mr. Gordon then takes us on a fast paced, and amazing journey through the nation's founding, the movement west, our major wars, depressions, and the rise (and fall) of technologies such as steam, the railroads, machine supported agriculture, banking, and international trade. He ends the book with the horrible events we experienced on September 11, 2001.
Not only is this a fun read for anyone interested in American History, it would be a fine addition to the history readings for high school or college students. I especially like the author's honesty about the good and the bad in our history without making us the bad guys or the source of all pain and suffering on the planet. The reader comes away with a richer understanding of our history and feels good about our place in the world.
The book has a particularly nice bibliography in addition to the chapter notes. The readings offered in the bibliography would enrich anyone and I also urge you to look at them and read as many as you can. There is also an index to help you find certain topics. (I am a big fan of indexes and cannot understand any modern book without one - given how easily computers can create them and allow the editor to work them into something useful. Yet, we still get books without indexes because people think they will be more popular. What I want is useful!)
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.
This was a very well written book. I initially picked it up from the library, and then purchased a copy to add to my library.