When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for "a new Bretton Woods" to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of 44 nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil's epic account.
Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival. At the heart of the drama were the antipodal characters of John Maynard Keynes, the renowned and revolutionary British economist, and Harry Dexter White, the dogged, self-made American technocrat. Bringing to bear new and striking archival evidence, Steil offers the most compelling portrait yet of the complex and controversial figure of White - the architect of the dollar's privileged place in the Bretton Woods monetary system, who also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years.
A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.
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Personality, talent, and guile clearly come to mind for me. These were two extraordinary men faced with the difficult challenges of their time.
I find this book unique in that Ben Steil does such a wonderful job of analyzing the two men and their impacts. Then he takes it a significant step further as he measures that impact through the years. Analysis of history and personalities is one thing, but the application of that thorough and detailed analysis through the succeeding years is a remarkable and extraordinary. I have seen the technique used before, but in this case I found it rich and rewarding!
I would have to focus on John Maynard Keynes as my favorite. I have always viewed him as a significant but somewhat obscure economic genius. To see this extraordinary talent presented and explained in such rich detail raises the man much higher on my pedestal, and I now can clearly see why his name remains a focus, even today. While I was very impressed with Harry White and his own remarkable talents as an economist, I got the feeling that he lapsed into the role of the government technocrat which reduced the shine of his own brilliance.
At times I laughed at the comments and actions of the two central characters. Harry White's involvement with subversive Communists did leave me blue, and Keynes death at 62 was a major and sad tragedy in my eyes. Even White's death at an early age due to heart attack was a tragedy as I feel it was at least in part brought on by the huge pressure of his mistakes and associations.
This is a wonderful, insightful, and well presented documentary of an event and the people involved which finally recognizes the major impact of that event. Bretton Woods was a historic watershed event of its time. The prime characters were at times giants among other men. This is a must read book!
Is this a mystery, a history or an economics book?
I liked all three books in one. If you want to know what the gold bugs, Federal Reserve, economists and the currency warriors are thinking read this book. Reality is stranger than life. The American seeking financial discipline at Bretton was a Russian spy. The Englishman seeking a phony money currency to bail out indebted nations was John Maynard Keynes. The same scenario plays out today: austerity or. funny money or a mix. Inflation or deflation, that's part of the mystery we all all living with. But to really get it, you have to know a little history. Terrific narration too.