A dense but worthy effort to explain how the economy went off the rails in recent years—and how we ended up in that...

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ALL THE PRESIDENTS' BANKERS

THE HIDDEN ALLIANCES THAT DRIVE AMERICAN POWER

A revealing look at the often symbiotic, sometimes-adversarial relationship between the White House and Wall Street.

When it comes to the tactics of modern bankers, former Wall Street insider–turned-journalist Prins (It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions, 2009, etc.) makes her disapproval known in no uncertain terms; their predecessors fare only slightly better in this sweeping history of bank presidents and their relationships with the nation’s chief executives. The narrative begins circa 1900, when bankers began to supersede industrial tycoons as the nation’s most powerful private-sector prime movers. Financial titans like J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller figure prominently, along with lesser-known but equally important men like Winthrop Aldrich and Thomas Lamont, as they navigate the treacherous terrain of World War I and the 1929 crash, both butting heads with and coming to the aid of presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover. As Prins writes, ties proved strongest during wartime, with banks working alongside politicians to sell bonds and bolster the finances of U.S. allies. As the 20th century rolled on, however, power shifted north from Washington to New York, where deregulation and globalization created opportunities for bankers to create complex financial products that neither the public nor they themselves seemed to fully understand, which led to a series of market collapses and global recessions. Even wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been enough to galvanize the banking industry as prior wars did. At times, the author talks over the heads of a general audience, and her anti-banker bias, even if it’s largely justified, cries out for some balancing commentary. Still, this is a valuable contribution to a growing body of books trying to make sense of an increasingly complicated financial world. The glossary of financial terms will prove helpful for general readers.

A dense but worthy effort to explain how the economy went off the rails in recent years—and how we ended up in that situation in the first place.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56858-749-3

Page Count: 554

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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