A history that shows how silver has been central to economics, politics, and foreign affairs.
Silber (Finance and Economics/New York Univ. Stern School of Business; Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence, 2012, etc.) examines the significance of silver from the nation’s founding to the present. Deeply researched and authoritative, the book begins with Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, who advocated a bimetallic backing for the dollar to prevent a shortage of either silver or gold. Throughout the 19th century, however, the use of silver as monetary standard was fiercely debated: Ohio Sen. John Sherman pushed through the Coinage Act of 1873, establishing gold as “sole legal tender for all obligations.” Nebraska congressman William Jennings Bryan, in his famous “Cross of Gold” speech delivered during his presidential campaign of 1896, advocated for the cheaper metal, silver, which his constituents believed would result in more circulating currency and higher prices for Nebraska’s commodities. Later, Sen. Key Pittman from Nevada—the Silver State—found an ally in Franklin Roosevelt, who took the U.S. off the gold standard and subsidized silver production, with the hope of mitigating the effects of the Great Depression. Making a case for the worldwide consequences of this decision, Silber asserts that Roosevelt’s strategy strengthened the Japanese military and exacerbated the Sino-Japanese conflict that left China vulnerable. During World War II, a shortage of copper for use in electrical wiring led to the withdrawal of silver, a fine electrical conductor, from its depository at West Point. The Manhattan project alone used 14,000 tons of silver. In his effort to show the tentacles of silver’s influence at home and abroad, the author makes the unsubstantiated assertion that John F. Kennedy may have been “murdered for downgrading the silver subsidy,” a conjecture he finds “as least as plausible as the rest.” Silber’s detailed recounting of the fluctuating prices of silver throughout history is enlivened by portraits of some obsessed silver investors, including psychiatrist Henry Jarecki and Nelson Bunker Hunt, a right-wing oil baron who was once the world’s richest man.
A well-informed history of silver’s allure.