When Washington Shut Down Wall Street by William L. Silber: a review

Silber’s a story-teller. The tale centers on a half-dozen principals who were simultaneously trying to prevent an economic crisis caused mostly by the outbreak of World War I and to lay the groundwork for a new United States monetary regime built around the not-yet-implemented Federal Reserve banking system. As a result of Silber’s story-telling bent, the economic theories underlying the discussion take on the personalities of the characters–the gold market is personified as Max May, central banking as Paul Warburg, NYSE as Henry Noble, the banking interests as Benjamin Strong and Henry Davison, and the federal government as William McAdoo. This is, of course, a method to simplify complicated forces, but it both reflects how the institutions actually looked to McAdoo and permits Sllber to maintain a tight focus on events.

While I’m not versed in this material, other interests had me reading about this crisis a couple decades ago; those were dry, theoretical books and essays arguing abstruse points. This book gently reminded me of those, but it’s far more readable; then it extended them, because Silber argues that these events led directly to Wall Street’s century-long reign as the world’s economic center. Absolutely delightful.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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