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 forty-four 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.
Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, Money, Markets, and Sovereignty, was awarded the 2010 Hayek Book Prize.
"The Battle of Bretton Woods should become the gold standard on its topic. The details are addictive."--Fred Andrews, New York Times
"A superb history. Mr. Steil . . . is a talented storyteller."--James Grant, Wall Street Journal
"Steil's book, engaging and entertaining, perceptive and instructive, is a triumph of economic and diplomatic history. Everything is here: political chicanery, bureaucratic skulduggery, espionage, hard economic detail and the acid humour of men making history under pressure."--Tony Barber, Financial Times
"[T]he author masterfully translates the arcana of competing theories of monetary policy, and a final chapter explains how, while some of the institutions created by Bretton Woods endure--the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund--many of the conference's assumptions were swiftly overtaken by the Marshall Plan. Throughout Steil's sharp discussion runs the intriguing subplot of White's career-long, secret relationship with Soviet intelligence. A vivid, highly informed portrayal of the personalities, politics and policies dominating 'the most important international gathering since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.'"--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[A] masterful (and readable) account of American realpolitik and British delusion."--Andrew Hilton, Financial World
"This is an excellent book. . . . [It] also contains some explosive revelations about White's work as a Soviet spy, very well documented I might add."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"If you think economics and finance are dry subjects at best, Steil's book offers a refreshing surprise. It's a political thriller in which the protagonists, one whom you think you know and one whom you probably don't, are much more intriguing (in both senses of the word) than they first appear."--Daniel Altman, Big Think
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Chapter 2: The World Comes to the White Mountains 9
Chapter 3: The Improbable Rise of Harry White 17
Chapter 4: Maynard Keynes and the Monetary Menace 61
Chapter 5: "The Most Unsordid Act" 99
Chapter 6: The Best-Laid Plans of White and Keynes 125
Chapter 7: Whitewash 155
Chapter 8: History Is Made 201
Chapter 9: Begging Like Fala 251
Chapter 10: Out with the Old Order, In with the New 293
Chapter 11: Epilogue 330
Appendix 1: Harry Dexter White Manuscript Photos 349
Appendix 2: Statement of Harry S. Truman on Harry Dexter White, 1953 351
Cast of Characters 355
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Benn Steil:
A Council on Foreign Relations Book