Review by K

[Ed. note: K reads regularly and widely, so it seemed only natural to ask him to write reviews for this blog. Thank you for contributing, K! – wabibito]

In the Pulitzer Prize winning book Lords of Finance, Ahamed turns the seemingly mundane world of central banking into a gripping page-turner worthy of Grisham or LeCarre. It is the story of the dawn of the modern age of monetary policy and the turbulent period of the early 20th century that shaped it, and was shaped by it. More importantly, it reveals how decisions about such things as interest rates and money supply by four central bankers in London, Berlin, Paris and New York laid the foundation for German hyper-inflation of the 1920s, the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression and ultimately the rise of Nazism and the Second World War.

Although many of the familiar names of this period, such as Churchill, Hitler and Roosevelt, play key roles in Ahamed’s saga, the prime characters are Montagu Norman (of the UK), Benjamin Strong (of the US), Hjalmar Schacht (of Germany) and Emile Moreau (of France). The inter-related lives of these four complicated (and somewhat peculiar) men are recounted in vivid detail from the early days of the century prior to the First World War through to the aftermath of the Second World War, which ultimately led to the abandonment of the gold standard and the international monetary reforms adopted at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire creating the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Ahamed succeeds in both entertaining and informing the reader by combining an adept critique of the economic policy decisions of the time with a very human story of the lives (both successes and failings) of four financial giants of the time whose names are otherwise largely lost to history. The story is particularly poignant given the prominent role that central bankers and their decisions have played in the media during the financial crisis that has gripped the world in recent years.