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by Graham Moore

Pub Date: May 21st, 2024
ISBN: 9780593731925
Publisher: Random House

America pits dollars against reichsmarks in this tale of economic warfare.

In August 1939, war has not quite begun. In Minnesota, government employee Ansel Luxford is horrified at the looming Nazi threat. He goes to work for the U.S. Treasury Department with a plan to fight Hitler: Dry up his source of money to purchase war materiel. Then hostilities begin, and if the U.S., which is legally neutral, is going to provide critical goods to France and Great Britain, it must also be willing to sell to Germany. How to get around that? Let the Germans know that they must pay in U.S. dollars and not reichsmarks, and make sure they don’t have those dollars to pay. And then “lend” the U.K. 150 million bullets and lots of military hardware, like tanks. That oversimplifies the plot, but that’s the gist. Using meticulous research, the author recounts a little-known aspect of the fight against the Nazis. All the characters and biographical details are historically accurate but for a few the author acknowledges at the end. The result is a painless tutorial in economic theory, with vigorous debates about the value of the dollar versus sterling. Once America is in the war, talk turns to the future: Could a world bank and an international monetary fund prevent future global conflicts? The story doesn’t show any dramatic pain suffered by the Germans, perhaps because a dollar desert and Nazi battlefield losses are hard to conflate in a scene. The characters are fascinating, such as Harry Dexter White, a senior U.S. Treasury official believed to have been a Soviet spy, and the brilliant and arrogant John Maynard Keynes. The author lifts Luxford from complete obscurity into quiet heroism, apparently well deserved. There’s a mystery about a displaced paper clip and a threat with an unloaded pistol, but little else titillates the senses. Still, the story flows well and will hold readers’ attention.

Fans of historical fiction will like this unusual take on World War II.