America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve, Reviewed

americas_bankRoger Lowenstein is on my list of authors that I will read whatever they put out, no matter what. His The End of Wall Street was one of the best books written on the crisis (Reviewed Here), and his When Genius Failed was “can’t put it down” thrilling (about the fall of Long Term Capital Management). As monetary policy and economic history are two of the great passions of my life, his new work on the founding of America’s Federal Reserve was something I have been very excited to tackle.

The book provides more granular history than you may have bargained for, and he certainly decimates the utterly crackpot works that exist out there from Fed conspiratorialists. I wish he had spent more time covering the gaping holes in our nation’s financial system at the turn of the century (that created the crisis of 1907) than he did in his exhaustive coverage of the political machinations that took place from 1910-1913 to get the act passed into law. Ultimately, he wrote this as a history book, and a student of history will not come away empty-handed. But if your desire was for a deeper economic dive, it is reasonably superficial, mostly papering over the substance of the issues around centrality and “lender of last resort”. What he does is give a remarkable context for the underlying cynicism and mistrust that has existed in all American banking discussions from Hamilton/Jefferson to Jackson/second national bank to of course the early 20th century debacles. Now, one hundred years after the creation of a central bank in our country, the debate has hardly subsided.

Lowenstein’s book is objective, historical, and well-written. Critics, students, and defenders of the Fed will come away more informed. Crackpots need not waste their time.