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Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt: Revised Edition Paperback – Bargain Price, March 30, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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About the Author

John Steele Gordon is one of America's leading historians, specializing in business and financial history. He is the author of An Empire of Wealth and The Great Game. He has written for Forbes, Worth, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. John Steele Gordon lives in North Salem, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; Rev Upd edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717993
  • ASIN: B004LQ0FIQ
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,827,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a revised and updated version of a book originally published in 1997. The author reviews the history of the national debt from the beginning of the United States to the present, and does so in an engaging and informative manner. The book is written in a style that does not assume the reader has any specialized knowledge about financial or tax matters.

The author discusses the financial plight of the United States after the American Revolution, and the reasons why Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of the Treasury) pressed for the creation of a national debt to deal with that financial plight. The author does a good job of setting forth the pros and cons of a national debt that have been raised and debated throughout American history, identifying the political ideas and movements that have influenced the debate over the national debt. The author also shows how and why the national debt has fluctuated over the years, and points out the consequences (both intended and unintended ) of the national debt and efforts to reduce it. Finally, the author reviews the rapid growth of the national debt during the past 40 years, identifies the serious fiscal problems posed by the current huge national debt, and proposes some possible solutions to address the national debt in a serious, systematic way.

Anyone interested or concerned with the current state of the U.S. national debt, regardless of the person's political views, should read this book. Whether you agree or disagree with the author's arguments and conclusions, you can learn much from this book.
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Format: Paperback
This review is for the original, 1997 edition of this book. Even though the revised edition was published in 2010, the table of contents is exactly the same as the original, so the depth of revision is suspect.

"Hamilton's Blessing" covers the history of the national debt, from the founding to 1997 at a rapid pace. The book is only 198 pages long but the spacing and page size makes it seem even shorter. The book is lightly footnoted but still heavy on detail and does explain the growth and changing character of the debt very well. He also devotes an appropriate amount of material to the history of American tax policy.

Steele Gordon is very critical of modern politicians for their inability to constrain spending. He argues that the debt was intended for emergency spending in times of war or crisis, but today deficit spending is largely a product of weak-willed politicians who refuse to make difficult decisions. Steele Gordon proposes, among other things, a flat tax to simplify budget estimates and take away Congress's power to dispense with political favors through a complex tax code.

I encourage readers who are interested in this book to buy the 2010 edition. The older edition was written at a time when the deficit was less than a third of what it is today, so the sense of urgency does not really come through the text. Also, the 1997 edition discusses the line-item veto a number of times, but the line-item veto was subsequently repealed by the Supreme Court after publication.
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Format: Paperback
Just two years ago, John Steele Gordon's book on the history of the U.S. federal debt would have seemed dated, even though it was published in 1997. After more than twenty consecutive years of operating in the red, the U.S. federal government had not only erased its annual deficits and began paying down the debt, but surpluses were projected over the next ten years.
This is no longer the case. A tax cut, the war on terrorism, and a slowdown in the economy have combined to push the U.S. government's outlays above its revenues. They have also made this book -- "Hamilton's Blessing" -- relevant again.
Gordon's book is two things: 1) a basic history describing the twists and turns of U.S. fiscal policy over the last two hundred-plus years and 2) a political tract condemning the latest turn U.S. fiscal policy has taken since the Great Society.
By combining the two, Gordon seeks to show that the most recent practice of U.S. fiscal policy -- that of habitually running deficits in peacetime -- is not only unprecedented in U.S. history, but also, more importantly, unsupported by any sound theory of economics.
"Hamilton's Blessing" is well-written and interesting. The book is only slightly marred by a lack of detail in some areas. How exactly does a large public debt hurt your average citizen and by how much? We never find out.
Gordon also should have kept his own political bent out of the book. Among other things, he spends three pages in a less than 200-page book detailing Jack Kemp's personal and political history, including his football career. All very interesting, but not really relevant to the history of the U.S. debt.
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Format: Hardcover
John Steele Gordon is an excellent writer, one whom I have enjoyed very much in the pages of American Heritage and who wrote a nifty history of Wall Street called "The Great Game."
This book, "Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt" is a good, if brief, overview of the fiscal history of the American government. It is somewhat misnamed, since the National Debt serves as a background and tie in to each period of fiscal history studied.
The author does a superb job of explaining Alexander Hamilton's establishment of our financial, banking, debt and money system. Here is a woefully under appreciated founder explained succinctly and whose brilliance and indispensability are brought forth by Gordon.
Descriptions of attitudes towards and major changes in financial policy and tools follow. Gordon covers the major aspects: the struggle over the Second National Bank, Jackson's paying off the debt (the only time the US Gov't has been debt free), Lincoln and Chase's tax, greenback and bond finance of the Civil War, the long fight to establish the income tax, the fight over high marginal rates and an efficient system of taxation, and the change in view in the last century from one that deficits and debt were something to be controlled to our current sorry state of view whereby no one worries about much about deficits anymore.
Debt, when properly used, has allowed us to primarily wage wars. It was retired in times of peace. We face an interesting time now, when debt as a percentage of GDP is much higher than it has been in most peacetimes.
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