Lords of Finance, By Liaquat Ahamed

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The Independent Culture

Lords of Finance, as its subtitle has it, tells the story of "1929, the Great Depression, and the bankers who broke the world". Those bankers were the then-governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman, an eccentric, solitary man who dabbled in spiritualism and claimed he could walk through walls; Emile Moreau of the Banque de France, a xenophobe with a particular distrust of Germans; Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank, a stiff, arrogant figure with a Prussian officer-style moustache; and Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a neurotic workaholic but also the most likeable of the quartet.

There are also cameos by other players, such as Maynard Keynes, who, Cassandra-like, was right about everything but unheeded; and JP Morgan, a man of natural authority, thought to be stratospherically wealthy but who, when he died, was worth "only" $80m. ("To think," said John D Rockefeller, "he wasn't even a rich man.")

A highly readable book, this doesn't quite subscribe to the Great Men theory of history, in that it fully depicts wider factors, such as the economic fallout of the War, but still shows that the characters and errors of individuals can have global consequences.

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