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Money, Greed, and Risk: Why Financial Crises and Crashes Happen Hardcover – July 27, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Imagine the American republic of the 19th century: at the beginning, a sparsely populated agrarian nation where the president, Thomas Jefferson, fords rivers on horseback to make it to his own inauguration; at the end of the century, it's a land of densely populated cities, teeming with factories and linked by a network of railroads. This extraordinary transition--and all the economic upheavals that went along with it--is described in the opening chapters of Money, Greed, and Risk, and provides the historical context for a broader look at how booms and busts happen. Charles Morris tells the story of American financial markets by looking at its larger-than-life characters: Nicholas Biddle (the first U.S. central banker), Jay Gould (a much-hated financial genius who patched together a network of rail lines), steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, oil baron John D. Rockefeller, and, of course, J.P. Morgan, who made America the world's banker. By the time these men had all passed from public life, the U.S. economy had changed from a primitive system that could be bent to the will of a single financier, such as Morgan, to a sophisticated, highly regulated, world-dominating conglomeration of massive corporations.

Then along came Michael Milken and things changed again. Morris makes this chronicle entertaining and enlightening, although the reader is expected to have some previous knowledge of finance and history. He finds connections where we don't expect them--for example, linking the leverage tactics of junk-bond king Milken to early-19th-century "wildcat" bankers. He also makes it easy to understand the accordion-like expansions and contractions in the world's developing economies. Once you've read this book, you'll feel as if you've seen everything before. --Lou Schuler

From Publishers Weekly

Morris's idiosyncratic excursion into the ups and downs of the business cycle is a series of appetizers rather than a meal. He takes the professional's-eye view that market crashes reveal systemic defects rather than moral failings of economic movers and shakers: greed is good as long as it is properly channeled and controlled. Crashes occur, Morris (Computer Wars, etc.) persuasively argues, when financial innovations are too successful and prod the market to expand too fast. While he discusses the American crises of the 1830s, 1870s and 1890s, as well as the 1980s, he barely touches on the crash of 1929 and ignores entirely the Cotton Panic of 1837, probably the worst financial crisis in American history. With a stoical dispassion unlikely to soothe those whose nest eggs are currently nestled in NASDAQ, he sees crashes as necessary, if painful and unfortunate, corrections to excess. The most penetrating question, he suggests, is not about why a market crashes but rather how prices were allowed to get so high in the first place. Most chapters will be easily understood by anyone who has ever played Monopoly, but the "Options" appendix assumes the reader recognizes, for example, the cumulative Gaussian distribution function. This well-written book can be enjoyed as a brief lesson in financial history or as a warning of a correction to come. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (July 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931730
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,118,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Rodgers on March 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a very well written and interesting book and learned a great deal, but much of the book was over my head. An example: "...They [Barings] were the major underwriters of the bonds for the Louisiana Purchase, and in the 1820s rapidly expanded their underwritings of American state bonds to finance internal improvements. But the bookkeeping on their securities was still following trade-based forms. Issuers of bonds were authorized to draw bills of exchange on the Barings, which they would cover by forwarding the new securities to London, just as merchants would cover a trade bill by forwarding the documents on a cotton cargo." A substantial portion of the book is similarly written, but balanced by a healthy dose of colorful characters and sharp opinions by Morris.
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Format: Hardcover
I found myself continuously amazed at the insights that Morris shows in his analysis of US financial markets and in their basic similarity over 150 years -- similar but more complex. I have been a student of financial markets for over forty years and I confess that I found insights being expanded consistently. As I read I kept thinking "What a great critical summary!"
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent book for the serious investor who wants historical perspective on the market changes happening today. It's added gift is that it will imbue its reader with the knowledge to preserve wealth and actually profit whenever the next financial crisis comes, since the author proves that there is not much new in modern crises, and their prescriptions, that couldn't be found in crises a hundred years ago. The author serves the reader well by constantly pointing out the irresponsibility of the nation's bankers and financial institutions especially when motivated by greed- "the opportunity to fleece the greedy proved irresistible," The author possesses the rare skill of being able to see the wood for the trees and of relating that to his readers. The foreword is right on.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Morris' book, despite its historical depth, falls short of providing a new insight on financial crises. This book is great for starters but cannot compete against Chancellor's "devil take the hindmost" or Kindleberger's "manias, panics and crashes". Clearly a dominated asset...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great summarizing skills, a light but sophisticated touch, and great choice of telling details make this little book a pleasure. Charles R. Morris again displays great editing and self-restraint: other, lesser authors might try to cram every detail in, and lose something. I have read many overlapping histories of US finance, but on page after page here, I see a graceful summary, with yet another observant angle and lucid explanation of events, better captured and phrased than I had seen it elsewhere. Great movements in American history, the real forces that pushed events into the shape we see and experience, are traced with clarity and compactness. For example, in a page or two, I came to understand more than ever before about, respectively, (1) the British funding of early American growth and the impacts of Andrew Jackson's meddling with the Bank of U.S., and (2) fateful choices in NYC-based bank funding of WWI and its combatants, that shifted my sense of not only the times, but of the course of the rest of US and global history. So many dots are deftly connected here. One can easily find a more encyclopedic work, but I'm hard pressed to find a more enjoyable, informative or originally thoughtful short history of American finance. For more recent history as of 2009 (a time inundated by books by now), one can consult Morris's The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown of 2009, and he has continued to produce books similarly merciful in size but "punching above their weight."
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