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Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank That Runs the Worldby Adam LeBor
Synopses & Reviews
Tower of Basel is the first investigative history of the world's most secretive global financial institution. Based on extensive archival research in Switzerland, Britain, and the United States, and in-depth interviews with key decision-makers — including Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve; Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; and former senior Bank for International Settlements managers and officials — Tower of Basel tells the inside story of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS): the central bankers' own bank.
Created by the governors of the Bank of England and the Reichsbank in 1930, and protected by an international treaty, the BIS and its assets are legally beyond the reach of any government or jurisdiction. The bank is untouchable. Swiss authorities have no jurisdiction over the bank or its premises. The BIS has just 140 customers but made tax-free profits of $1.17 billion in 20112012.
Since its creation, the bank has been at the heart of global events but has often gone unnoticed. Under Thomas McKittrick, the bank's American president from 19401946, the BIS was open for business throughout the Second World War. The BIS accepted looted Nazi gold, conducted foreign exchange deals for the Reichsbank, and was used by both the Allies and the Axis powers as a secret contact point to keep the channels of international finance open.
After 1945 the BIS — still behind the scenes — for decades provided the necessary technical and administrative support for the trans-European currency project, from the first attempts to harmonize exchange rates in the late 1940s to the launch of the Euro in 2002. It now stands at the center of efforts to build a new global financial and regulatory architecture, once again proving that it has the power to shape the financial rules of our world. Yet despite its pivotal role in the financial and political history of the last century and during the economic current crisis, the BIS has remained largely unknown — until now.
"Budapest-based journalist and literary critic Lebor (Hitler's Secret Bankers) offers a critical history of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), a complex financial enterprise founded in 1930 and located in Basel, Switzerland, that serves the world's central banks. Claiming access to new sources and insider information, Lebor exposes the wheeling, dealing, and often nefarious activities of global investment bankers. The book explores the 'massive capital movements' worldwide before and after WWII that anticipated today's globalized economy, and highlights the bank's relationship to both Nazi Germany and postwar Germany. Lebor calls the BIS today an 'opaque, elitist, and anti-democratic institution, out of step with the twenty-first century.' Though this lively account too often resorts to the incriminating tone of investigative reporting, the historical and contemporary power of the secretive BIS will surprise and alarm readers. While the BIS's past deeds are gamy and its operations today are 'shadowy,' central banking mechanisms and international monetary networks exist for good reasons. As one of the bankers interviewed suggests, the BIS could serve an important future role in keeping the euro intact. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, William Morris Agency. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Tower of Basel is essential reading. Meticulously researched and fluently written, it reveals a slice of the modern world’s untold history — a gripping tale of covert networks, secret deals and unaccountable, powerful individuals whose decisions shape our lives.” Edward Lucas, author of Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today
Adam LeBor has written an absolutely fascinating history of the BIS, perhaps the most enigmatic financial institution in the world. The story he unveils of the many skeletons in its closet and its astounding ability to remake itself periodically only add to its mystique.” Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World
Compelling reading—a masterly depiction of the role of the BIS in the Nazi period and Second World War.” Harold James, professor of history and international affairs, Princeton University, and author of Making the European Monetary Union
Five times a year, the world's most powerful and exclusive club meets in an unexceptional office building in Basel, Switzerland. These central bankers, including the heads of the US Federal Reserve, the Bundesbank of Germany, and the Bank of England, come to Basel to attend the Global Economy Meetings at the Bank for International Settlements. They control monetary policy in the developed world — influencing how much money we have in our pockets and bank accounts, how much that money is worth, and how safe it will be.
The BIS has survived wars and the collapse of entire political systems. Its collaborations are complicated: in 1945 the board was dominated by Nazis who would stand trial for war crimes. It pioneered the European Union and the Euro. Founded in the 1930s, the BIS is the birthplace of the global financial technocrat. Central bankers are now more powerful than ever. In Italy and Greece, elected politicians have been replaced by technocrats approved by the BIS. This is the story of the world run by bankers and of the institution at a history of the heart of the global banking club: the central bankers' own bank.
About the Author
Adam LeBor is an author, journalist, and literary critic based in Budapest. He writes for The Economist, The Times (London), Monocle, and numerous other publications, and also reviews books for the New York Times. He has been a foreign correspondent since 1991, covering the collapse of communism and the Yugoslav wars, and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is the author of seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including the ground-breaking Hitler's Secret Bankers, and two novels. His books have been published in twelve languages.
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