- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
More copies of this ISBN
This title in other editions
Other titles in the Enterprise series:
The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over the American Dollar (Enterprise)by H W Brands
Synopses & Reviews
A best-selling historian's gripping account of the powerful men who controlled America's financial destiny.
From the first days of the United States, a battle raged over money. On one side were the democrats, who wanted cheap money and feared the concentration of financial interests in the hands of a few. On the other were the capitalists who sought the soundness of a national bank—and the profits that came with it.
In telling this exciting story, H. W. Brands focuses on five "Money Men": Alexander Hamilton, who championed a national bank; Nicholas Biddle, whose run-in with Andrew Jackson led to the bank's demise; Jay Cooke, who financed the Union in the Civil War; Jay Gould, who tried to corner the gold market; and J. P. Morgan, whose position was so commanding that he bailed out the U.S. Treasury.
The Money Men is a riveting narrative, a revealing history of the men who fought over the lifeblood of American commerce and power.
"Brands appraises five key players in American financial history: Alexander Hamilton, who advocated federal assumption of state Revolutionary War debt through the establishment of a national bank; Nicholas Biddle, who presided over the Bank of the United States when it failed under pressure from Andrew Jackson; Jay Cooke, who financed the Union through retail bonds during the Civil War; Jay Gould, who precipitated the Black Friday collapse of gold prices in 1869; and J.P. Morgan, who stabilized the financial panic of 1907. Each man, Brands explains, represented capitalism intertwined but in conflict with democracy. Capitalism promoted free trade and strong financial institutions, while democracy called for protectionism and financial institutions that helped customers instead of making insiders rich. This inherent tension, the author writes, was resolved by the 1913 compromise that created the Federal Reserve System. The author's generalizations, however insightful, make rigid organizing principles, given that different political and economic forces shaped each era. Focusing on one capitalist per episode also distorts the stories, as does lurching from crisis to crisis while glossing over the important consensus developments that occurred in between. Brands (Andrew Jackson) delivers a competent but schematic general history." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Americans are notoriously fascinated with money. We want to know who's got it, how they made it, how they're spending it — and, of course, how we can get more of it for ourselves. We make celebrities out of moneymakers like Donald Trump. We get obsessed with money shows like 'Mad Money,' 'For Love or Money,' 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' and 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.' But we don't do... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) much thinking about the money itself. It's just money. It comes in bills we shove in our wallets and coins we lose in our couches. It's held in banks that tend to change their names every few years but don't tend to run off with our savings. And it's controlled by the Federal Reserve, an institution that somehow seems boring and mysterious at the same time, and is generally ignored by those of us who don't have adjustable-rate mortgages. It's actually a sign of great national progress that we don't have to think too deeply about our money. Because as the versatile historian H.W. Brands recounts in 'The Money Men,' the first five generations of Americans spent an inordinate amount of time and energy fighting over what would constitute money, how much money there would be and who would make the important decisions about money. Brands argues that 'the money question' was the most persistent dilemma in U.S. politics from 1776 until 1913, when the creation of the Fed provided an answer. 'No question,' he writes, 'touched more livelihoods and more lives more consistently, more intimately, more portentously.' Perhaps Brands overstates his case — the race question was a pretty big deal, too — but this breezy little book provides an elegant overview of America's early financial battles, and a strong argument that they drove the nation's development. It may sound vaguely Marxist or at least unromantic to view U.S. history through the lens of liquidity; disputes over public debt, the national bank and the gold standard don't sound as dramatic as Washington crossing the Delaware or Lincoln freeing the slaves. But Brands helps the medicine go down by weaving his narrative around five compelling characters: Alexander Hamilton, the treasury secretary who promoted national debt and a national bank; Nicholas Biddle, the national bank president who lost an epic battle to stop Andrew Jackson from killing his powerful institution; and three private financiers — Jay Cooke, who financed the Union's Civil War effort with his innovative bond schemes; Jay Gould, who nearly ruined the economy by cornering the gold market; and J.P. Morgan, who encouraged collusion among the great industrial trusts and bailed out the treasury when it ran low on gold. To Brands, the story of America's first century is a relatively simple one of struggle between capitalists and democrats. The capitalists, originally led by Hamilton, favored a strong federal government with a strong executive branch; the democrats, led by Thomas Jefferson, favored the states and especially feared a strong executive. The capitalists, representing merchants from the cities of the Northeast, supported a strong currency and opposed inflation on behalf of the creditor class; the democrats, speaking for common farmers and pioneers from the rural South and West, wanted a weaker currency that made it cheaper to pay back loans. The capitalists tilted toward gold, tariffs, a national bank, a loose interpretation of the Constitution and a foreign policy that favored Great Britain at the expense of France; the democrats fought them on each point. The result was an enduring philosophical debate over government and finance, a debate that galvanized the public for decades in ways that are now reserved for issues like war and presidential promiscuity. The first fight was over the Constitution itself, with Hamilton's Federalists pushing for federal control of money and taxes, and Jefferson's Anti-Federalists warning that the stage was being set for a new King George. Brands follows the debates through Biddle's struggle with Jackson over the vast power of the national bank, and the 'free silver' fights that were sparked in part by Gould's gold corner. The problem was always how to mobilize capital to help investors and industrialists develop the country without allowing them to control the country. It was ultimately Morgan's outsize influence on the economy (as well as his haughty defiance of Congress) that helped persuade Americans of the dangers of financial concentration. The story of early America is not really as simple and money-focused as Brands makes it sound. Take his shorthand account of the nation's origins: 'The British frowned on the paper issues as inflationary and in the 1760s outlawed paper money entirely. The edgy colonials soon went over the edge into revolution.' Those are both true statements, but shouldn't the words 'taxation' and 'representation' appear somewhere in between? And while Brands is shrewd to point out that some members of Congress supported the annexation of Texas in order to ensure the security of their bonds, that certainly wasn't the main explanation for the popularity of annexation in the era of Manifest Destiny. Still, 'The Money Men' is an easily readable introduction to long-buried issues that once defined America's political culture. Today most Americans consider themselves democrats and capitalists, and now that most of us work for wages, average Americans fear inflation as much as titans of industry. We still squabble about taxes, deficits and tariffs, but we no longer debate whether, say, states should be allowed to print their own money. The money question is now irrelevant. And that just proves how important it was that we answered it correctly." Reviewed by
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
The conflict between equality and inequality, between democracy and capitalism, has played out in much of American history in political battles over the dollar, including whether it should be based on gold, silver, or other standards; whether control over issuing dollars should be in the hands of a central bank; and other related issues. Brands (history, U. of Texas) examines this history by focusing on five individuals central to these debates: Alexander Hamilton (1755-1757), the first Secretary of the Treasury and champion of the idea of a national bank; Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), president of the Second Bank of the United States who fought the "Bank War" with President Andrew Jackson; Jay Cooke (1821-1905), the American financier whose bonds financed the Union during the Civil War and, in the process, pioneered the use of price stabilization; Jay Gould (1836-1892), who tried to corner the market in gold; and J. P. Morgan (1837-1913), whose wealth prompted President Grover Cleveland to turn to him in order to defend the credit of the United States. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Focusing on five "Money Men"--Alexander Hamilton, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould, Nicholas Biddle, and J.P. Morgan--historian H.W. Brands pens a riveting narrative of the men who fought over the lifeblood of American commerce and power. 5 illustrations.
About the Author
H. W. Brands is the best-selling author of The First American, Andrew Jackson, and several other works. He is Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History at the University of Texas and lives in Austin.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like