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Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon capture Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon captures as never before the true source of our nation's global influence: wealth and the capacity to create more of it. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.


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Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon capture Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon captures as never before the true source of our nation's global influence: wealth and the capacity to create more of it. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

30 review for Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power

  1. 5 out of 5

    John Maniscalco

    I only finished half of this book, it was all I could take. Not that there aren't some interesting facts in the book, it is just not what I expected. To be fair, this book is quite ambitious to attempt to cover 400 years of economic history in as many pages and it does do a good job explaining how technology facilitated economic growth (not exactly a great discovery) and how Americans have a particular ability to create develop new technologies and methods that allowed economic growth to progres I only finished half of this book, it was all I could take. Not that there aren't some interesting facts in the book, it is just not what I expected. To be fair, this book is quite ambitious to attempt to cover 400 years of economic history in as many pages and it does do a good job explaining how technology facilitated economic growth (not exactly a great discovery) and how Americans have a particular ability to create develop new technologies and methods that allowed economic growth to progress at an astonishing rate. But I expected a book that focused on major economic policy disputes such as the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson over the federal assumption of state debts or the battle between Jackson and the National Bank. Instead, I got a book the devotes a few pages to explain these and other conflicts and how they got resolved but page after page on how the steam engine was invented and how cod was so instumental to the economic development of New England. Nor does this book offer anything new, there is not much here that you didn't learn in middle school social studies or high school American history. If you are interested in American economic history, there is a plethora of better books you can turn to. Don't waste your time on this one.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I understand this is an economic and not a social history, but it is strange to read the story of American economic power without even the faintest nod toward inequality (not just today - Gordon is silent on the gilded age of the “roaring 20s” as well). Two other complaints. First, Gordon seems unwilling to recognize ANY legitimate purpose for economic policy or financial regulation that risks the all-mighty GDP, which he (and many, many others) see as an intrinsic and absolute good in its own r I understand this is an economic and not a social history, but it is strange to read the story of American economic power without even the faintest nod toward inequality (not just today - Gordon is silent on the gilded age of the “roaring 20s” as well). Two other complaints. First, Gordon seems unwilling to recognize ANY legitimate purpose for economic policy or financial regulation that risks the all-mighty GDP, which he (and many, many others) see as an intrinsic and absolute good in its own right. That classical free market economics does a fantastic job growing overall wealth, irrespective of distribution or crisis effects, is not particularly controversial, and examples of such are not very helpful (though the historical fact can be interesting). I wish Gordon would have gone a little deeper. Second, I found his treatment of the Civil Rights Movement, which had a significant economic justice and therefore relevant-to-this-story component, appalling, boiling down to little more than “we passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act....no more racism!” This was especially galling given Gordon’s emphasis elsewhere on the importance of capital formation via home ownership (ignoring redlining) and the fact racism was the second problem he identified as holding back southern economic development, with the first being...the initial lack of air conditioning (p. 373-375). Some of this may be harsh in a 2018 review of a book written in 2004. But these omissions say something about how economic historians thought about American expansion less than 15 years ago. Fair game.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael Adamchuk

    The author takes the premise that the United States built it's power, influence and dominance on the creation of wealth rather than by the sword. He describes and talks about the most significant inventions; the people and events that powered us through wars; the effects of a major depression and smaller recessions; the growth of both politics and economics; and the resilience of the diverse population in the United States. Very readable and understandable with strong support for his premise. The author takes the premise that the United States built it's power, influence and dominance on the creation of wealth rather than by the sword. He describes and talks about the most significant inventions; the people and events that powered us through wars; the effects of a major depression and smaller recessions; the growth of both politics and economics; and the resilience of the diverse population in the United States. Very readable and understandable with strong support for his premise.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Krishna

    From the perspective of the early 21st century, the rise of the United States to global economic prominence seems almost inevitable. The founding mythology of this country attributes its inexorable expansion and growth to the unfolding of a manifest destiny, evidenced at the very moment of conception in the Puritan work ethic and aided by unlimited natural resources and free market capitalism. John Steele Gordon does not contest this teleological view in this fast-paced and accessibly written ec From the perspective of the early 21st century, the rise of the United States to global economic prominence seems almost inevitable. The founding mythology of this country attributes its inexorable expansion and growth to the unfolding of a manifest destiny, evidenced at the very moment of conception in the Puritan work ethic and aided by unlimited natural resources and free market capitalism. John Steele Gordon does not contest this teleological view in this fast-paced and accessibly written economic history of the United States. Instead, he chronicles the rise of the United States from peak to economic peak, with even the setbacks such as the Civil War or the great depression laying the foundations for the next great phase of expansion. The story begins in colonial times, with the scant footholds established by Europeans along the eastern seaboard. Each colony initially struggled until it found a unique crop or local resource. In the Virginia colony centered on Jamestown, it was tobacco. The Carolinas initially experimented with furs traded from the hinterland, but soon gave that up in favor of lumber, livestock and rice which were in heavy demand in Britain's Caribbean island colonies (the plantations there had shifted almost entirely to cash crops, and food and building materials were scarce). In New England with its thin, rocky soil, agriculture never really took off - there it was fishing that laid the foundation of the local economy. Plentiful forests and fast-flowing rivers to power saw mills allowed a lumber industry to thrive as well. Fortuitously, the fishing fleets laid the foundation for a shipping industry, and eventually ship-building positioning New England to take easily to industrialization (but that is yet to come). Independence devastated the economy, with large parts of the Carolinas and Virginia farmlands reduced to waste by British troops, New York under continuous occupation for most of the war, and the government itself under a huge debt burden. Fortunately, the United States had a brilliant and far-sighted economic manager in the first Treasury secretary: Alexander Hamilton. His magic touch laid the American economy on a sound footing - his decision to found a national bank, to assume all the debts of the states, to put in place a sound customs and tariff system, all had a salutary effect on the economy (see my review of Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton). But Hamilton's tenure was not without hiccups: his decision to tax liquor almost directly led to Shay's rebellion, which had to be put down by the army. But on the whole, one cannot but admire Alexander Hamilton, who in my estimation is the real father of the nation, rather than the much revered Washington. Steele makes much of the fact that America's birth year (1776) also witnessed the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. For the next two centuries, it was the US economy that came closest to Smith's free market principles. And the founding fathers created some robust institutions: a national bank (but that soon met its demise), and a nascent stock market after the 1792 Buttonwoods Agreement. But in this economy based on "free market principles," one commodity was prominently unfree: labor. Since 1619, a steady stream of African slaves were imported into the US. At the time of independence, slavery had become so well-ingrained into the southern plantation economy that the constitutional convention had to come up with the infamous "3/5th compromise" that both recognized the existence of slaves, while establishing that they were not entitled to the rights enshrined in the Constitution. But surprisingly, cotton with which slavery is most often associated, was not a major part of the southern economy at independence. It was actually independence that laid the foundations for the cotton economy: with separation from the British empire, the southern states lost access to the Caribbean market for their agricultural produce (rice, especially). The search was on for a new cash crop. Through a coincidence that Steele calls the "terrible synergy," a Eli Whitney's cotton gin was invented at precisely this time, enabling long fiber cotton (with particularly sticky seeds) to be grown in the rich alluvial soils of the coastal south. Slave labor was the third part of this synergy, and with that they southern economy took off. Interestingly, Whitney never patented his cotton gin, and all his income from his invention was comprised of the monetary prizes awarded to him by grateful southern state governments. But other developments were also occurring further north: an epochal event was the completion of the Erie Canal, largely the product of DeWitt Clinton's prodigious energies and powers of persuasion. And substantial government grants - a feature of American government from the very get-go that private capitalists can count on generous government assistance and all profits going back not to the treasury but to investors. The Erie canal opened up a vast hinterland to New York City and enabled it to become a great trading center and global metropolis in the years to come. IN 1803, Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase hugely expanded the country, making the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio river system a highway into a vast continent (and rich, cosmopolitan, decadent New Orleans briefly a rival to New York). Politics also played a part. The major cleavage in the early years was between the Federalists represented by Washington, Adams and Hamilton and the Democrats led by Jefferson and Madison. Federalists advocated for a strongly centralized polity (making "Federalist" a misnomer) with a central bank, free capital and robust trade. The Democrats, inspired by Jefferson's vision of self-sufficient agrarian communities, distrusted financiers and moneyed interests and supported state's rights and a weak federal government. But the conflict came to a head in the Democratic Andrew Jackson administration. If his predecessors had fulminated against moneyed interests, Jackson preferred to act. Distrustful of bank scrip, Jackson ordered that payments for western lands would henceforth be accepted only in gold. Simultaneously, he also let lapse the charter of the Second Bank of the United States (chartered by Madison in 1816 after Hamilton's First Bank's charter expired). With no national bank to keep the small regional and state-chartered banks in line, and the severe contraction created by the transition to gold payments, thousands of lenders defaulted. The economy slid into depression, a feature that was to become chronic to the American economy in the next 150 years. Steele calls this the "Jeffersonian destruction" - but should it not be the "Jacksonian destruction"? Jefferson, despite his rhetoric, acted wisely even against his stated principles when the situation demanded it: witness the Louisiana purchase undertaken in spite of Jefferson's hatred of government debt and the aversion to strong action by the federal government. But vast new improvements were also coming: the steamship and the paddle steamer, the steam-powered loom, the mail packet boat, the railroad and the telegraph. The US, initially not at the vanguard of technological progress, got access to these technologies by persuading skilled craftsmen to emigrate to America. In what can only be called "industrial espionage," American businessmen sent agents to recruit disaffected engineers and technicians, steal blueprints, and copy down factory layouts on innocent tours of British mills. But gradually, Yankee ingenuity created homegrown technologies and by the last decades of the 19th century, America had muscled its way to the forefront of industrial progress - witness the case of Samuel Morse's telegraph or McCormick's reaper, that allowed farms to grow vastly in size and laid the foundation for American dominance of agriculture. These technologies also laid the foundation for vast fortunes: Vanderbilt's investments in steamboats and railways made him the first American tycoon. Thus in the Civil War, two visions of the nation and two very different economic systems clashed: a slave-holding South drunk on the power of King Cotton and a rapidly industrializing north. No amount of Southern valor or superior generalship could prevail against the manufacturing and financial advantages of the North. Since this is an economic history, Steele spends more time on the financing of the war than on the events of the war itself. Steele states that warring sides have only three means of raising money: taxes, borrowings (bonds) and printing currency. With its stronger economy, the North was able to base most of its war spending on the first two, while the South relied a lot more on the third. This led to rapid inflation that demoralized the population and had at least some influence on the ultimate outcome. Emancipation further devastated the South's plantation economy. In the aftermath of war, both sides were plagued by corruption. The completion of the transcontinental railroad and first great financial scandal of the US occurred: the Credit Mobilier affair. The Union Pacific railroad received huge government grants, but insiders set up a construction company called Credit Mobilier (a pretentious European name for a tawdry enterprise), that charged exorbitant rates to Union Pacific. The railroad with the government as shareholder was perpetually in debt and the private investors in Mobilier kept all the profits. Wisely, Mobilier shares were also allocated to key government officials. Another catastrophe was the Black Friday stock market crash of 1869, caused when Jay Gould tried to "corner" the gold market. But the post-War years also witnessed a rapid growth of the economy. Englishman Henry Bessemer invented the Bessemer converter to make steel, and spawned an entire new industry: Pittsburgh emerged as a major industrial center. Huge fortunes were made, in railroads by Vanderbilt and others, in steel by Andrew Carnegie (backed by hatchetman Henry Frick), by John Rockefeller and his Standard Oil. But behind all these fortunes was the hand of financier J.P. Morgan, who could move markets with a single word and to whose door even presidents made their way. Morgan's reputation, already substantial, became legendary after he helped create behemoth U.S. Steel by combining Carnegie's companies with several others. "God made the world in 4004 BC, it was reorganized in 1901 by J.P. Morgan" (joke quoted in p. 262). But a reaction was also setting in. The Sherman Antitrust Act legislated in 1890 became the weapon of choice for Progressives to curb the power of industrial monopolies, especially during the tenure of Theodore Roosevelt. The income tax, in play since the 1860s but only fitfully implemented, became the law of the land through the Sixteenth Amendment in 1909. A Federal Reserve was set up in 1913 (but did not start functioning really until the end of WW 1). World War I was relatively brief for the US. It entered the war relatively late, until the sinking of the Lusitania overcame the antiwar (and significant pro-German) sentiment. In fact, wartime production actually boosted the economy and laid the basis for the 1920s Gilded Age economic boom. A key development was the emergence of the automobile industry led by Henry Ford. Automobiles also spawned a host of other industries - steel, rubber, road construction - and aided the growth of others, such as petroleum. Another development was electricity; a series of inventions came out of Thomas Alva Edison's Menlo Park laboratories. The possibilities in America seemed endless. But all of this was to come down with a crash in 1929, which ushered in the great depression. Discredited after almost 4 continuous decades in the White House (broken only by Woodrow Wilson's two terms), Republicans made way for Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic administration. Steele lists the breathtaking list of initiatives undertaken by Roosevelt in his first 100 days in power (pp. 334-336): everything from creating the Civilian Construction Corps (that undertook thousands of public works projects and gave jobs to hundreds of thousands of desperate men) to the Tennessee Valley Authority, passing the Glass-Steagall Act that tightened banking regulations, taking the country off the gold standard, setting up the National Recovery Administration, and many others. When the Supreme Court seemed likely to strike down parts of his New Deal legislation, Roosevelt threatened to pack the court with his own appointees, until better sense prevailed on both sides. But the depression ground on, with brief periods of recovery, until the outbreak of WW 2 finally put the US back on the growth track. The Lend-Lease program made the US the quartermaster to the Allied armies, and American factories went into overdrive. But the US bided its time joining the war, until Pearl Harbor. With men moving overseas to fight, women entered the workforce in large numbers. The economy was working at full employment, and wages too rose only kept in check by price and wage controls. The economy itself, after adjustments for inflation grew by 56 percent between 1940 and 1945. The last two chapters on post-WW 2 developments present a dizzying number of events: the GI Bill, the Marshall Plan, Merrill Lynch and the democratization of stock market investing. But each gets only cursory coverage probably because the author assumes that the reader would be well-informed about these events. For example, the Vietnam war gets barely half a paragraph, the civil rights struggles half a page and an airy dismissal that "although at the time (of the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) it seemed the fight for equal rights had just begun, in fact, the battle was won" (p. 374). Thereafter, that shameful aspect of American life (racial discrimination) was "expunged from the body politic" (p. 375), and increasingly from American hearts and minds. Steele also blames the dramatic rise in government spending under Johnson's Great Society programs (inspired by Keynesian thinking) for the economic weaknesses of the 1970s. The 1970s were indeed a decade of malaise in American politics and economy, with Watergate and the Nixon impeachment, the grinding war in Vietnam, the oil embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis and rampant inflation. Steele says that Democrats, clinging to New Deal type solutions, appeared incapable of handling these crises, with the result that Ronald Reagan got elected in 1980. The cursory coverage of events continues - the Savings & Loan crisis, the rise of the Internet, the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the last page and a half, 9/11. Though not a short book at 419 pages (followed by 40 pages of notes and indices), much is packed into it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Miles

    A good quick overview of the economic history and development of the United States. Beginning with the colonial days and early enterprises to the breaking of the millennium, this easy read introduces the reader to the hows and whys of what made the American economy what it is today. Although very optimistic about the history of the stock market and the economy in general, this book at least does give a good argument for an open capitalist and free market system. Along with the reader's knowledge A good quick overview of the economic history and development of the United States. Beginning with the colonial days and early enterprises to the breaking of the millennium, this easy read introduces the reader to the hows and whys of what made the American economy what it is today. Although very optimistic about the history of the stock market and the economy in general, this book at least does give a good argument for an open capitalist and free market system. Along with the reader's knowledge of 19th and early 20th century US history, this book will open your eyes as to the financial motivations for most of the major historical events that every school kid has heard. Until now, you've only heard a part of the story... Although gappy and not boggingly comprehensive, I would recommend this book to those who are seeking to expand their historical knowledge in a new area without getting completely overwhelmed with details.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I found this book to be very informative. I'm really not good with the whole 'What percentage of what equals what' stuff on the stock market. But this book really didn't go into that - it was very conceptual. As such I feel as though I understand the general ideas behind what goes on much more than I ever did before. If you want to learn about the financial systems of the world without getting lost in exchange rates and whatnot, this is a great book to start with. My boyfriend told me that this I found this book to be very informative. I'm really not good with the whole 'What percentage of what equals what' stuff on the stock market. But this book really didn't go into that - it was very conceptual. As such I feel as though I understand the general ideas behind what goes on much more than I ever did before. If you want to learn about the financial systems of the world without getting lost in exchange rates and whatnot, this is a great book to start with. My boyfriend told me that this book would also make my heart beat proud to be an American. I admit it only did that to a certain extent. Following the end of the Civil War the progression of finance and technology was almost as much global as it was belonging to any speicific country - at least, on the broad levels discussed in this book. But, that being said, it does give a good idea on how we got from bartering tobacco in Virginia to 'The dollar is king' to 'The dollar is less than king'.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Benny Kjaer

    In Gordon's own words: "...in the writing of (financial) history...the result is often stupefying boring." This book is NOT boring. It's the financial history of the United States of America, and it contain no statistics, no charts. From the Puritans, through our various wars and conflicts, and up till today, this is the fascinating, easily to read tale of how this country came to be what it is. Money, greed, guts and incredible adventure and inventions shaped the USA and its people into what we In Gordon's own words: "...in the writing of (financial) history...the result is often stupefying boring." This book is NOT boring. It's the financial history of the United States of America, and it contain no statistics, no charts. From the Puritans, through our various wars and conflicts, and up till today, this is the fascinating, easily to read tale of how this country came to be what it is. Money, greed, guts and incredible adventure and inventions shaped the USA and its people into what we experience today. Along the way, we witness stupidity and ignorance, nearly disastrous decisions and governance, and a new country coming to maturity. Through focusing on its economic development, Gordon manages to explain, in layman's terms, how the USA became the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. For anyone interested in American history, this is a most read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lawless

    This books tells the history of the American economy from the time of the first settlers before this was the United States until 9/11. It's a very fair telling, as far as I know, without political bias. Technological advances, improvements in productivity, wars, world events, and the beginning of US currency and banking systems are all discussed. There are some great trivial facts mentioned such as that the creation of US time zones was to simplify railroad schedules and that the first use of th This books tells the history of the American economy from the time of the first settlers before this was the United States until 9/11. It's a very fair telling, as far as I know, without political bias. Technological advances, improvements in productivity, wars, world events, and the beginning of US currency and banking systems are all discussed. There are some great trivial facts mentioned such as that the creation of US time zones was to simplify railroad schedules and that the first use of the term debugging actually involved insects. There is a lot of information presented here, but I found it very interesting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Randall Secrest

    Excellent writing until the final twenty percent, no appreciable mention of Jack Kennedy and the one line mention of the 9-11 tragedy ended the book? Perhaps two books would have been better than one? Otherwise a fine story of a bigger than life country.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim Martin

    A rather ambitious and sprawling book, covering economic history from the Jamestown settlement in Virginia to the first few years of the 21st century (and some coverage of economic conditions in England prior to the founding of Jamestown). I found it very readable and well-paced and that while it had notes, an extensive bibliography, a thorough index, and my edition had study notes as an appendix, was easily read as a popular economic history. The book is basically I think best read as fairly qu A rather ambitious and sprawling book, covering economic history from the Jamestown settlement in Virginia to the first few years of the 21st century (and some coverage of economic conditions in England prior to the founding of Jamestown). I found it very readable and well-paced and that while it had notes, an extensive bibliography, a thorough index, and my edition had study notes as an appendix, was easily read as a popular economic history. The book is basically I think best read as fairly quick (though it is 419 pages) overview of the major events in American economic history. Though it does touch on again and again on aspects of economic theory (some of the most prominent themes that the author revisited multiple time was on the many drawbacks that occurred from the United States lacking a central bank, how bad money drives out good aka Gresham’s Law, and the problems of a gold standard), it is mostly a history of economic events, much of it tied up in great disputes (over whether or not to have a central bank), the effects of various inventions (such as the cotton gin or the automobile), various pieces of legislation or the creation of various government bodies (such as the Federal Reserve System or the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act), the origins of various economic institutions (such as the New York Stock Exchange), or the fortunes of great business leader and corporations (such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, General Motors, and IBM). Though occasionally there was fairly lengthy discussions of some topics (the 1929 stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression got a lot of coverage, as well as the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s for instance), most topics get a paragraph to a few pages, enough to introduce the topic to the reader but not going into a great deal of depth. The book, after an introduction, was divided into five parts, each part consisting of anywhere from three to seven numbered chapters. Except for part one, all the other parts began with a chapter labeled “transition,” in every case a war and its wide-ranging effects on the American economy, from inventions to manufacturing to finance to banking to economic policies. Part one was on the history of what would become the United States, focusing on the economic history of England as it pertained to founding the colonies and on Colonial America economic history. Only three chapters, it was the shortest of the five parts of the book. Items covered included the inventions needed to found Jamestown (the printing press, full-rigged ship, double-entry bookkeeping, and the corporation), the importance of tobacco to the early Colonial economy, the importance of having seemingly a nearly inexhaustible supply of land, the beginning of the African slave trade (including economic causes and effects), the economic aspects of the founding of each of the Thirteen Colonies (such as the role various crops played and how diversified their economies were), the origins of heavy industry in the colonies (the Saugus Iron Works in 1648, the beginning of a trend that by the end of the colonial era, the colonies were producing one-seventh of the world’s supply of pig iron), the origins of a money economy in the colonies (a challenge when there was a British embargo on exporting coins and a widely ignored law forbidding anyone but the royal mint to mint coins, though this was done beginning in 1652 in Massachusetts with the advent of the pine tree shilling), and the story of taxation in the colonies (including its role in sparking the American Revolution). Part II, after a transition chapter on the American Revolution, was a sprawling chapter that covered American economic history from the American Revolutionary War up till the beginning of the American Civil War. Lots as one might imagine is covered in this section. Highlights include the financial aspects of winning (or “not losing”) the Revolutionary War, the enormous importance of Alexander Hamilton in American economic history: “The ability of the federal government to borrow huge sums at affordable rates in times of emergency – such as during the Civil War and the Great Depression – has been an immense national asset. In large measure, we owe that ability to Alexander Hamilton’s policies that were put in place at the dawn of the Republic. It is no small legacy.” the story of trying to create and maintain a central bank, the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, who “would destroy Hamilton’s financial regulatory system and would replace it with nothing”: “As a result, the American economy, while it would grow at an astonishing rate, would be the most volatile in the Western world, subject to an unending cycle of boom and bust whose amplitude far exceeded the normal ups and downs of the business cycle.” with this lack of ability to stop panics continuing for an astonishing 195 years. Ok, lots covered in part II, including the end of the South Carolina indigo trade, the rise of cotton, the importance of the cotton gin (some neat discussion of the different types of cotton), what all this had to do with slavery in the United States, fights over and the importance of tariffs (for decades the primary means of funding the federal government and one of Washington’s chief economic tools), Samuel Slater (called by Andrew Jackson “Father of American Manufactures”), the advent of toll roads and canals (with some good coverage of the Erie Canal), Robert Fulton and the rise of steam-powered transportation, important court cases regarding interstate commerce regulation (can a state give a monopoly on who can use steam powered vessels on a given body of water?), Samuel F.B. Morse and the revolution brought on by the telegraph and Morse code, the rise of newspapers (particularly their role in advertising), the story of whaling and its role in the economy, the story of the ice trade and its importance (with at one time ice exported as far away as India), the 1849 gold rush, closing with how “sectional political forces were increasingly pulling the country apart across a North-South divide, despite an ever more integrated economy,” and that “the American nation would be forged only upon the awful anvil of the Civil War.” Part III, “The Emerging Colossus,” began with a nicely written transition chapter on the Civil War, covering American economic history from the start of the Civil War to the start of World War I. Topics covered included the importance of bond sales to fund the Union war effort, the first income tax (as “a tax system almost wholly based on the tariff was obviously inadequate”), how the U.S. went from in 1865 being a primarily agricultural country to by 1900 “the largest and most modern industrial economy on Earth,” how after the war, “nothing characterized American politics and thus the American economy so much as corruption” (lots of coverage of various economic scandals, particularly the “Scarlet Woman of Wall Street,” the Erie Railway, subject of the Erie Wars on Wall Street), robber barons (while noting such men “were capable of ruthlessness, gross dishonesty, and self-aggrandizement,” did in fact create wealth, not merely transfer it, and many did their best to stay well within “often inadequate laws”), quite a bit on the history of banking and the gold standard (including William Jennings Bryan’s famed “Cross of Gold” speech), the first ever “Black” day on Wall Street (Black Friday, September 24, 1869), the origins of “generally accepted accounting principles” and the certified public accountant, quite a lot on the railroad industry (how it became “by far the country’s largest industry,” so powerful it was able to impose in 1883 standard time zones), a good bit on the history of the steel industry, the economics of the Atlantic migration (thirty million people crossing the Atlantic between 1820 and 1914), the birth of business trusts (and why they appeared), and the reemergence of the income tax after its disappearance following the Civil War. Part IV, “The American Century Begins,” begins with a transition chapter on the First World War and proceeds to cover American economic history until the beginning of the Second World War. Lots of coverage of so many things. Topics include how the economy transitioned from one dominated by heavy industry like steel, petroleum, and railroads and become more consumer-oriented, the advent and revolutionary impact of the automobile (including an all too brief discussion of how in 1900 one-third of America’s farmland was growing fodder crops for horses and mules and how the collapse of this market affected farmers, no longer growing so much oats and hay), quite a bit of interesting discussions of the Model T (first revolutionary, then a car that Henry Ford refused to change for years, become quite behind the times), Thomas Edison, the spread of electricity to homes and businesses (a fascinating section), a great deal of coverage on the 1929 stock market collapse (including causes and consequences), the importance of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (“Tariffs are taxes, and taxes, inescapably, are always a drag on the economy”), the sad saga of the collapse of the Bank of the United States, a surprising defense of Herbert Hoover’s handling of the Great Depression (some of the things he did “would prove to be the model for much of the early New Deal,” such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), quite a bit of coverage of the effects Franklin D. Roosevelt had on the economy with his New Deal (especially on banking, as with the 1935 Federal Reserve Act “the country had a fully functioning and empowered central bank,” the “first time tine in ninety-nine years”), and the beginning of a change in the fundamental fiscal goals of the federal government, switching from “balancing the budget and paying down the debt” to “preventing a new Great Depression” and acting “as the provider of last resort of the essentials of an adequate standard of living.” The final section, part V, after a transition chapter about the Second World War, covered American economic history from the beginning of the war till just after the year 2000. Topics covered including the amazing production abilities of the United States during the war (liberty ships, “seventy-two hundred tons and thirty thousand parts,” went from taking 244 days to produce to only 42 days), Donald Nelson (who as head of the War Production Board, became “the CEO of the American economy”), the advent of withholding (with the Revenue Act of 1942), the origins of medical insurance, the tremendous effects of the GI Bill of Rights, the origins of suburbia (with coverage of William Levitt), an all too brief discussion of the origin of credit cards, the origins of Merrill Lynch and Company (and its role in bringing Wall Street investment opportunities to the average person and the effect this had on Wall Street as a whole), the role air conditioning played in economic development in the American South, the economic impact of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the origin of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, the influential writings of John Maynard Keynes, stagflation, the impact the rise of the import of foreign cars (and why they gained a foothold), the origins of the Rust Belt and what this meant, deregulation of the airlines and the impacts this had, the Savings and Loan crisis, the economic impacts of space technology, computers, transistors, integrated circuits, and the internet, and why the economy played such an enormous role in the United States beating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. I liked it, I think the next logical reading would be to find books on specific aspects of American economic history, as I cannot imagine anyone covering the whole of the history any better than Gordon has.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Taylor

    I often think that history focuses too much on politics and government. Sometimes you read about history and what you get are a list of emperors, kings, presidents, and wars but how much of that actually impacts the life of the average person in a meaningful way. Seeking something with a different perspective I bought A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, but that aggrieved "socialist" take on history wasn't really what I was looking for. Ironically I found it in the book Empir I often think that history focuses too much on politics and government. Sometimes you read about history and what you get are a list of emperors, kings, presidents, and wars but how much of that actually impacts the life of the average person in a meaningful way. Seeking something with a different perspective I bought A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, but that aggrieved "socialist" take on history wasn't really what I was looking for. Ironically I found it in the book Empire of Wealth, a capitalist history of the US by John Steele Gordon. The cool thing about this book is it looks at American life from the perspective of actual people; focusing not so much on kings and presidents but pioneers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors operating in the real world. Why waste time learning about political scandal and intrigue when you can learn about ships, cash crops, canals, roads, railroads, banking, accounting, investing, electricity, and plumbing? Oh yeah, plumbing. After you read this book you'll probably realize all of the most boring and forgettable events you learned about in the footnotes of US History were actually among the most important. There are certain points in this book where I feel Mr. Gordon might be painting an overly rosy portrait of the capitalist class but this is a great book for anyone wanting to supplement their knowledge of US History (like say an AP US History student) with something more down to earth and less trivial.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dick

    This one is a gift from a friend. I was skeptical at first I would enjoy it much since I have read a fair number of books about America history. I was very wrong. Newsweek said this is the best one volume economic history of the United States for a long time. This is definitely for me. The earlier chapters about evolving economic life and thinking during the 18 to 19 centuries are extremely interesting. The way the author narrated using different anecdotes ( I.e a business fights between two big This one is a gift from a friend. I was skeptical at first I would enjoy it much since I have read a fair number of books about America history. I was very wrong. Newsweek said this is the best one volume economic history of the United States for a long time. This is definitely for me. The earlier chapters about evolving economic life and thinking during the 18 to 19 centuries are extremely interesting. The way the author narrated using different anecdotes ( I.e a business fights between two big personalities, corruptions.. and getting busted, disastrous policy response to crisis etc) are very memorable and entertaining. In the back of the book in his interview he said that many historians have tried to write “ people’s history “ without success because it’s hard to tell a story from the point of view of the chorus than principals. But underlying much of politics and warfare are always economic force. So he sought to tell an economic history without graph and chart, rich in human drama and give reader a fresh slant of the extraordinary story. It was a great mission and to me he definitely succeeded. The author is also not shy about sharing his opinion throughout. I didn’t google him around but he is probably a libertarian. It’s regrettable however that the book was published in 2004 so the author didn’t get to opine on the GFC and big data. A great read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pang

    I really enjoyed the book. It was an easy read, though it took me a long time to finish it because of my school obligations. The book gave good general overview of how the U.S. came to be the hegemon that it had, starting from the colonial time. I found it quite gripping... the boom and bust periods resonated our current financial situation. This included people who had visions and great ideas that pushed the market forward. It wasn't terribly complex, which I didn't think it could be considering I really enjoyed the book. It was an easy read, though it took me a long time to finish it because of my school obligations. The book gave good general overview of how the U.S. came to be the hegemon that it had, starting from the colonial time. I found it quite gripping... the boom and bust periods resonated our current financial situation. This included people who had visions and great ideas that pushed the market forward. It wasn't terribly complex, which I didn't think it could be considering the book covered a lengthy period. But that was also the one thing I didn't like about the book - the fact that it covered too much. I wished that it had more of the author's opinions and insights. I enjoyed his opinions as they were now, and I could use a lot more. Because of his writing style, he made me feel like I could have conversations with him, which I wished I could. I would read this book again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mr. Monahan

    Looking for a concise and readable economic history of the United States? Look no further, as John Steele Gordon has written this captivating narrative for you. Gordon aptly surveys American history by focusing on economic periods that provide a succinct introduction to the evolution of the American economic system. Don\'t expect too much contemporary history, but Gordon\'s analysis of the entire scope of American history provides an ample primer for the student of history, business, or economic Looking for a concise and readable economic history of the United States? Look no further, as John Steele Gordon has written this captivating narrative for you. Gordon aptly surveys American history by focusing on economic periods that provide a succinct introduction to the evolution of the American economic system. Don\'t expect too much contemporary history, but Gordon\'s analysis of the entire scope of American history provides an ample primer for the student of history, business, or economics. The narrative is also refreshingly centered on historical fact, rather than folklore. This is most evident in his handling of "robber barons", William Jennings Bryan, and Herbert Hoover. Having read far too many narratives of these subjects which are not grounded in fact, but rather in populist folklore (particularly the handling of American businessmen and Herbert Hoover in US History textbooks) I have found Gordon\'s book to be perfectly grounded in historical reality.

  15. 4 out of 5

    bruinmark

    Proves economic history can be enjoyable to read in the hands of a talented writer. Filled with interesting facts and asides, and insightful about specific industries (e.g., whale oil and steel). The book has a cheerful boosterism about the U.S. economic system that is somewhat infectious, even if its largely uncritical support for American exceptionalism is somewhat troubling. In addition, the author's conservatism comes annoyingly to the forefront as the book progresses. Page 395, on the late-7 Proves economic history can be enjoyable to read in the hands of a talented writer. Filled with interesting facts and asides, and insightful about specific industries (e.g., whale oil and steel). The book has a cheerful boosterism about the U.S. economic system that is somewhat infectious, even if its largely uncritical support for American exceptionalism is somewhat troubling. In addition, the author's conservatism comes annoyingly to the forefront as the book progresses. Page 395, on the late-70s GOP: "...the Republican Party was beginning to crackle with new ideas to address the new economic realities." That sounds like it belongs in a GOP promo brochure. And page 415 has this zinger: "...socialism in all its many forms had been shown to be universally a failure." Gotcha. Still, a brisk and rewarding read for its nimble retelling of American economic history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim M

    Really nice overview of 400+ years of economic history. I found the early chapters on the 17th & 18th centuries to be most compelling. Gordon does an excellent job explaining and connecting the unique circumstances and recurrent themes that laid the foundation for unparalleled economic growth in later centuries. The book did lose some steam (no pun intended!) as it went along, and Gordon's personal views became more and more evident. His positive treatment of Roosevelt's New Deal policies seemed Really nice overview of 400+ years of economic history. I found the early chapters on the 17th & 18th centuries to be most compelling. Gordon does an excellent job explaining and connecting the unique circumstances and recurrent themes that laid the foundation for unparalleled economic growth in later centuries. The book did lose some steam (no pun intended!) as it went along, and Gordon's personal views became more and more evident. His positive treatment of Roosevelt's New Deal policies seemed a bit out of place with some of his other views. And while his focus on Keynes was certainly justified, I found it puzzling that neither Hayek nor Friedman were mentioned in his discussion of 20th century economic thinking. However, overall, this was a highly enjoyable read and a wonderful summary of a complex subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brian Fiedler

    In the past months, I had finished two books that were explicitly about the future. Amazon's marketing machine then offered this book to me, and I clicked. Very glad I did. This book was about the past, but implicitly casts a very favorable projection for the future of America. Here is just one of many themes woven into the book: the damage that Thomas Jefferson did to the United States. I took from the book that sophistication in banking, in particular central banking, always lagged technical p In the past months, I had finished two books that were explicitly about the future. Amazon's marketing machine then offered this book to me, and I clicked. Very glad I did. This book was about the past, but implicitly casts a very favorable projection for the future of America. Here is just one of many themes woven into the book: the damage that Thomas Jefferson did to the United States. I took from the book that sophistication in banking, in particular central banking, always lagged technical prowess in America, and much of the reason can be traced to a revered founding father. Readers should be prepared for challenges to their conceptions about the reasons for successes and failures in America.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Atul

    Wow, this was a long read, but certainly one of my favorites. John Steele Gordon is truly amazing at writing business and economic history. The paragraphs flow perfectly, and the language he uses makes the “An Empire of Wealth” extremely easy to understand and entertaining. This book expertly chronicles the rise of the U.S. from a group of quarreling colonies with no future to a financial and economic colossus such that the world has never seen before. There is so much amazing information jam-pac Wow, this was a long read, but certainly one of my favorites. John Steele Gordon is truly amazing at writing business and economic history. The paragraphs flow perfectly, and the language he uses makes the “An Empire of Wealth” extremely easy to understand and entertaining. This book expertly chronicles the rise of the U.S. from a group of quarreling colonies with no future to a financial and economic colossus such that the world has never seen before. There is so much amazing information jam-packed in this book that I don’t know even what facts I found the most interesting, or which section I learned the most from. Thus, I am not going to bother explaining in detail my feelings about this book — just read the book for yourself, and enjoy every last word of it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caeser Pink

    The historic part of the book was pretty good, but when it came to the last 50 years his analysis was clearly partisan to his belief in conservative supply side economics. When raving about the great business success of Wal-Mart he never once mentions the poorly paid workers. And from Reagan onward the rise if income inequality is never discussed. I did find it interesting what an important role transportation played in economic growth: canals, roads, and eventually railroads, made the market ec The historic part of the book was pretty good, but when it came to the last 50 years his analysis was clearly partisan to his belief in conservative supply side economics. When raving about the great business success of Wal-Mart he never once mentions the poorly paid workers. And from Reagan onward the rise if income inequality is never discussed. I did find it interesting what an important role transportation played in economic growth: canals, roads, and eventually railroads, made the market economy possible. Although the book was written before the 2008 crash, it discussed many instances where capital liquidity played a role in economic disasters, and seemed relevant to 2008.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Newfell

    A history of the United States - through the lens of business and finance. It seems an unusual approach until you realize that this country has always been about business. The first settlers in Virginia were there to send back raw materials and pay back the investment company. The Pilgrims? Same thing. This book doesn't have charts and graphs. It's a straight forward history and how business, finance and the government's handling of crisis was undertaken. Fascinating history. Highly recommended. A history of the United States - through the lens of business and finance. It seems an unusual approach until you realize that this country has always been about business. The first settlers in Virginia were there to send back raw materials and pay back the investment company. The Pilgrims? Same thing. This book doesn't have charts and graphs. It's a straight forward history and how business, finance and the government's handling of crisis was undertaken. Fascinating history. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    LT

    Read excerpts in my APUSH class this year, but unfortunately did not finish the book. Gordon’s writing was informative and insightful. Political power follows economic power. Moreover, this book made me realize how economic development is tantamount to the course of American history as a whole and continues to have tremendous impact today.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cameron

    Fantastic walk though of the US economical history While it took me longer than it should have to read, the book provides a wonderful source of education of how the US rose to power. It's filled with numerous, fascinating facts as well. A great read. Fantastic walk though of the US economical history While it took me longer than it should have to read, the book provides a wonderful source of education of how the US rose to power. It's filled with numerous, fascinating facts as well. A great read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Doug Edwards

    Loved it, fascinating read about our economic history I learned a lot about our history and economics reading this book. One of the better reads of the last few years for me. Puts a lot of present-day political and economic issues in perspective.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mr Shahabi

    In the begining there was the quakers, the english, the french, dutch, Portuguese, indians and more! Then all of them motherfuckers got eliminated by few families. The end.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Canfield

    Empire of Wealth, a look at the economic history of the United States from the first European settlers to the early 2000s, is a nice selection for readers just getting their feet wet on the topic. The length of the book necessitates that it cannot delve into too much detail about any particular era. This trait is both a strength and a drawback. While it does a serviceable job of granting surface level views on issues typically seen as sideshows in U.S. history (the Credit Mobilier scandal, intro Empire of Wealth, a look at the economic history of the United States from the first European settlers to the early 2000s, is a nice selection for readers just getting their feet wet on the topic. The length of the book necessitates that it cannot delve into too much detail about any particular era. This trait is both a strength and a drawback. While it does a serviceable job of granting surface level views on issues typically seen as sideshows in U.S. history (the Credit Mobilier scandal, introduction of the income tax, Fisk and Gould's attempted cornering of the gold market in the late 1800s, creation of the Model T, and the Bonus Army P.R. debacle during the Hoover administration), it breezes through epochs that seem deserving of even more detail (like the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War Two) with a celerity that is almost laughable. This is not a knock on Gordon; he is only working within the format the work was intended to conform to. There is an admirable amount of discussion of colonial American economic facts, and it is over fifty pages into the book before the Revolution against Great Britain breaks out. That Gordon did not skip over this often overlooked colonial interlude grants readers a more solid grasp of how things unfolded prior to the birthing pains faced by the new nation. The author lets his personal views intrude on several occasions, especially as it gets nearer to modern history. Although it is restrained during the portion on the Great Depression, the kids' gloves treatment given to the Reagan years as well as the failure to mention a single word about the Clinton administration (while lavishing praise on the mid-to-late 1990s) seemed slightly eye roll inducing. The lightness with which he treats Herbert Hoover is an interesting side note; it's not that he is necessarily erroneous in doing so, but it seems strange to see a historian stick up for the oft-derided thirty-second president. Yet these things can be overlooked, and Empire of Wealth is overall an informative resource on our country's economic development. -Andrew Canfield Denver, Colorado

  26. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Harris

    This is among the most enjoyable books I have ever read. It is a large story, told in a compelling series of smaller stories, about how a nation of people's liberty happened to create a shared wealth greater than that of any government of central control that ever came before it. When the English of the seventeenth century called the land across the Atlantic a New World, they could not have imagined how true would be the description. John Steele Gordon shows us how economic ingenuity led to pros This is among the most enjoyable books I have ever read. It is a large story, told in a compelling series of smaller stories, about how a nation of people's liberty happened to create a shared wealth greater than that of any government of central control that ever came before it. When the English of the seventeenth century called the land across the Atlantic a New World, they could not have imagined how true would be the description. John Steele Gordon shows us how economic ingenuity led to prosperity for not only Americans, but also for others around the world with whom they trade. Some of the names are familiar (Edison, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Astor, Fulton, Ford), others less so. Bankers and stock traders play a crucial roll. Politicians—and wars—also figure into the big picture. It is the intertwining of needs, wants, wishes, maybes, stumbles, errors, upsets, what-ifs, and how-abouts that make the story lively. And an attentive reader is inspired to appreciate beyond measure the inventions and innovations over time that have made our modern lives so comfortable. The copyright date of the book is 2004. The cell phone was the latest amazing invention when it was used in 2001 by some of the doomed victims of the heinous attack on America by men of a Very Old World. The killers used our own very complex invention, jet airplanes, to apparently send a signal that they disapproved of it—and us, I guess. Mr. Gordon ends his story on an optimistic note, but in the thirteen years since the book's publication the "smart" phone has evolved into an instrument for both good and evil, depending upon who uses it and for what purpose. Politically the world has also detoured away from a sense of friendly peace felt at the end of the twentieth century. The best invention of all could be figuring out how to spread good will among ALL the earth's people.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ben Zimmerman

    I found this book useful even if I disagreed with a fair amount of its content. John Steele Gordon presents US economic history from the perspective of a fiscal conservative. Much of the book is the common interpretation of the country's history: a steady march of innovation and progress with occasional economic downturns and a few questionable financial policies. He rarely spends time discussing the roles of minorities and barely ever mentions women, but I suppose you could argue that for most I found this book useful even if I disagreed with a fair amount of its content. John Steele Gordon presents US economic history from the perspective of a fiscal conservative. Much of the book is the common interpretation of the country's history: a steady march of innovation and progress with occasional economic downturns and a few questionable financial policies. He rarely spends time discussing the roles of minorities and barely ever mentions women, but I suppose you could argue that for most of the book they had very little economic or political power, so they fall out of the scope of his thesis. As is often the case with broad history books Steele Gordon winds up on very shaky ground by the final chapters when he is dealing with more recent events and explaining what we can learn from the past. The last section is basically just him lamenting Keynesian economics and discussing how great he thinks Reagan was. He rarely acknowledges anything positive a Democrat has done since Roosevelt and he attributes a lot of economic advancement to wars, which is a bit of a broken window fallacy. The final chapter really had me rolling my eyes as he talked about 9/11 and how the strength of American capitalism would withstand this new threat. All that being said, he makes some fairly cogent points about early American fiscal policy in the first portion of the book. If you want to understand the way most Republicans view American history this is a good place to look. As with any history book, I would recommend you be conscious of the author's biases and remember he is only providing one perspective.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mario

    I picked this one up on a friend's recommendation, and I'm glad I did. It was an excellent book, start to finish. I especially liked the first couple of chapters, where Gordon weaved an overarching narrative about how the newly-established colonies, and eventually the independent nation of America, utilized all of its advantages (geography, climate, abundant resources) to grow and flourish. I wish he had continued to do that throughout the book; instead, he seems to treat each chapter as an inde I picked this one up on a friend's recommendation, and I'm glad I did. It was an excellent book, start to finish. I especially liked the first couple of chapters, where Gordon weaved an overarching narrative about how the newly-established colonies, and eventually the independent nation of America, utilized all of its advantages (geography, climate, abundant resources) to grow and flourish. I wish he had continued to do that throughout the book; instead, he seems to treat each chapter as an independent story, apart from the others and dedicated to one or two innovations. ("In chapter 8, we'll discuss the history and importance of the telegraph." If Gordon had explored the ways in which these innovations complemented each other and formed the foundation for subsequent innovations, the book would have been much more entertaining. That's not to say that this book was dull or uninteresting - it was still quite enjoyable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hiebner

    This is an easy reading economic history of the United States. While it tends to lack depth it does from time to time include a gem regarding how economic principles work in a capitalist democratic society. I found the most interesting parts of the book were the explanation of how individual initiative and competition seemed to be the bedrock of success in the developing United States economy. Gordon also compares capitalism with socialism in the post WWII section of the book but tends to ignore This is an easy reading economic history of the United States. While it tends to lack depth it does from time to time include a gem regarding how economic principles work in a capitalist democratic society. I found the most interesting parts of the book were the explanation of how individual initiative and competition seemed to be the bedrock of success in the developing United States economy. Gordon also compares capitalism with socialism in the post WWII section of the book but tends to ignore the mixed economy that has successfully combined socialist/capitalist ideas. It is a good brief overview of the application of economic principles in the development of a country. Worth the read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Monticello

    I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read for a history book and I learned a lot. It's a book I will probably read again to pick up the things I most likely missed the first time. Oh, and the only reason it took me a long time to read it is because I put it down in December, read a little in January and then didn't get back to it until the end of May. So, don't look at my reading time and infer that it's a slog. It's not! I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read for a history book and I learned a lot. It's a book I will probably read again to pick up the things I most likely missed the first time. Oh, and the only reason it took me a long time to read it is because I put it down in December, read a little in January and then didn't get back to it until the end of May. So, don't look at my reading time and infer that it's a slog. It's not!

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