This is an exceptionally detailed and sourced book, that is also highly readable. It occasionally walks a fine line between history and a rant, however. (It never does, which is to Tooze’s eternal credit. And even if it it did, it would be a very well-informed one.) I worried about reading a history written literally in the middle of things but I think this is about as good as you’ll get without the benefit of hindsight. That being said, the stronger parts of the book are earlier and what Tooze has to say at the end is a little less sure-footed.
I had kind of forgotten who important the crash was, and the Great Recession. This is a necessary corrective for me. (I was very lucky, otherwise I wouldn’t have forgotten it.) Tooze does an excellent job of linking the political dysfunction of the late teens with the financial crises of the late, early and mid aughts. My biggest takeaway, though, is probably that our financial system is so unbelievably interconnected and complex that it’s impossible for one person to understand it in the moment, let alone control it. Tooze seems to believe that the people who ended up being right were right for good reasons but I’m less sure. I strongly believe luck plays a role even in matters like this and I’m not 100% sure Tooze has convinced me otherwise. The intentions might have been correct, or close to correct, but the results…well I’m not entirely convinced by Tooze that they were doing more than flying by the seat of their pants. But then I’m not an economist. Anyway, it’s still a very compelling story and, with hindsight, Tooze can identify the better strategies (almost always the American one) from the less effective ones.
There are a few quibbles.
The most obvious one is how focused on the US and Europe (and China, to a much lesser extent) it is. There’s stuff about Russia but there’s not much about Russia and it’s like India and Africa do not exist. I understand that, at 600+ pages, he had to limit himself. But it felt like he only acknowledged how limited the scope was in the final chapter.
Also, is he an apologist for the Fed and Bernanke? It’s a legitimate question. I am not an economist so I don’t know. I do know of at least some economists who agree with this position but I would kind of like to read another take.
Lastly, the language of this book, both Tooze’s and from the quotes, is hilariously apocalyptic. I don’t know if this is because Tooze is too much in the world of economics, or I’m too out of it (not having much invested) but everything can’t be a disaster or crisis. Right? The way he and they talk about these issues, it’s as if the world is ending every day. It can’t help, can it?
But, on the whole, it’s an excellent book. And if you can handle the heft, it’s well worth your time, for what it reveals about global financial capitalism and how recklessness has endangered our entire social structure.