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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Gripping and dull
To a friend with a keen interest in economics, yes. As a good read, no.
Lacking any formal education in economics, much of the book went straight over my head. That much said, the bits I did get were frequently very interesting. It was often very technical, and the technical elements presupposed that the reader understood the basic concepts. That is more a failing on the part of this reader than the writer, but other readers should maybe understand that a solid grounding in economics would be advantageous before venturing forth into this book.
Whilst I enjoyed Rose's delivery, I actually did wish I had a hard copy I could easily flip backwards and forwards through, to try and get my head around some of the more tricky technical aspects.
Excellent book but not for the general reader
- Lord Peridot