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The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195121216
ISBN-10: 019512121X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

David Hackett Fischer is a master storyteller, capable of writing challenging histories in highly enjoyable prose. His earlier works, Albion's Seed and Paul Revere's Ride, have both been hailed for their extraordinary success as both scholarly achievements and readable histories. In The Great Wave, Professor Fischer directs his erudite attention to the ebbs and flows of prices, demonstrating that the historical costs of goods shed much light on patterns of human events, and the interpretation of those prices in turn discloses a great deal about the methods and biases of historians. The result is an intriguing study of both human history and a critical appraisal of the historian's craft. The greatest talent Fischer demonstrates is the ability to master a diverse amount of quantitative data and organize it into a remarkably clear story. Certain to interest lay readers, investors, and serious students alike, The Great Wave changes the way you look at those common signposts known as prices. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Fischer (Paul Revere's Ride, LJ 4/1/94) turns to economic concerns in this informative and readable history of price revolutions. The first revolution of which we have adequate record occurred in the 13th century: it coincided with the onslaught of the Black Death and put an end to the forward movement and optimism of the High Middle Ages. Later price crises coincided with devastating religious wars and social unrest in the 17th century, revolutions at the end of the 18th century, and the Great Depression and the horrors of totalitarianism of our own century. Today, we face another devastating wave of inflation: "after 1975...ratios of wealth inequality reached their highest levels in four centuries of American history....The principal victims [are]...the young people who ha[ve] no hope for the future and no memory of better times in the past. The result [is] a rapid growth of alienation, anomie, confusion, and despair." Fischer combines a lively narrative with cogent analysis and sound advice. Essential for scholarly collections, this fine book will also be appreciated by lay readers.?David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus, Calif.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 552 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019512121X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195121216
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Americans seem to have a blind spot when it comes to history. We can't see the value of learning about the past, and applying its lessons to the present. We're arrogant enough with our vast wealth and power to believe that we invented everything first. Or we simply don't see the value of history, as a resource, as object lesson, as holding some answers to today's dilemmas.
Brandeis University professor David Hackett Fischer acknowledges this blind spot and takes the long view in "The Great Wave." Utilizing a very long telescope, one that sees back as far as the Dark Ages, Fischer investigates the history of price changes to expound on a fascinating theory that can possibly foretell nothing less than the future of the United States, whether we're headed for an era of greater prosperity, or a catastrophe like that of the Great Depression.
Fischer's long-view theme is similar to more popular and populist works that spring up like daffodils and last about as long: Toffler's "Fourth Wave" and "Future Shock" easily come to mind, and politicians have their favorite advocates of either the "future's so bright we got to wear shades" school of eternal optimism, or the "hunker down, boys, the Japanese / Germans / Latinos / big business / lower classes are coming over the walls" school.
The theory behind "The Great Wave," in contrast, is the real thing, backed by solid research, not the author's political leanings. By examining the prices people paid for goods throughout history, four "price revolutions" were identified, each followed by a long period when prices were relatively stable. The intensity and length of each revolution was different, lasting as short as 80 years, to as long as 180 years.
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Format: Hardcover
Fischer's book takes in a long view of basic economic history. It covers the period from roughly 1200 AD to present, using data from England, Europe and the United States. The book sizes up what has taken place economically, socially, etc. and it discusses some basic relationships. A great contribution of the book is that it becomes apparent to the reader that long term effects are frequently completely invisible to people coping with present economic situations. For example, many well-intended fiscal policies are counter-productive or produce neutral effects for this very reason. Another great supporting contribution of the book is that Fischer is well aware of the various schools of economic thought. At many places in the text, he points out weaknesses of certain theories; in his appendix he summarizes by showing that no existing single theory fully explains actual historical events. Another great contribution is the appendix itself. It comprises half the book, and contains a massive bibliography, with further elaborations on social issues, crime, disease, divorce, contrasts in economic theories, wealth distribution, and more. Most of the references are of high scholarly quality. There are a few shortcomings in presentation, but these are details. For example, Fischer occasionally makes asides which would be more effective if they were concise summaries. Also, some of his graphs have peculiar scaling. The reader must exercise care in interpreting them. Nevertheless, ... Fischer's work is an excellent overview of economic dynamics, and is highly recommended for obtaining a well-rounded perspective.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fascinating but lacking... in that this wonderful presentation of historical inflationary periods omits any real discussion of the nature and role of the evolution of credit/debt over the periods discussed. The overall picture of placing recent trends in a much larger historical context is something that is sorely missing among modern mainstream economists, but a more comprehensive inclusion of economics is sorely missing in this work by an historian.

The initial chapters seemed to merit a 5* rating at first reading, with their detailed interweaving of price changes in relation to real wage levels, wealth inequality, interest rates, social unrest and war. For someone not familiar with such trends in the 12th through 17th centuries it made for fun and engaging reading, especially with lines like this: "Iron skullcaps were worn not merely by soldiers but also by traveling merchants who lived in a world where consumer complaints were forcefully expressed".

But the sketchy narratives presented for the 19th and 20th centuries made me wonder if the previous chapters were as lacking. There is no discussion of credit expansion, central banking, fractional-reserve lending, gold-standard vs. gold-exchange standard, etc.

In looking back, I realized the author, with much discussion of flows of gold and silver, did not talk much about the impact of foreign exchange contracts that developed in the 12th century. Or the impact of financing transport of goods at medieval trade fairs by the issuance of IOUs, redeemable at other fairs, in exchange for hard money. Or other bills of exchange and credit instruments, discounting of debt, and forms of credit insurance.

There are also flawed discussions of major 20th century events.
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