August 10, 2010
Staff Picks: High Financier
On the same day that Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address ... another newly elected political leader gave a speech to another nation mired in the depths of the Depression. The second leader was Adolf Hitler and his speech ... though in some respects surprisingly similar to Roosevelt's in content, differed profoundly in its tone. [...] With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Hitler's appointment was an event pregnant with future calamity not just for Germany but for the world—and particularly for the Jews of Europe. And we see that, for all the radicalism of Roosevelt's rhetoric (which explicitly blamed the Depression on unscrupulous financiers and threatened to override the power of Congress to combat an economic emergency), his New Deal posed no meaningful threat to individual liberties in the United States. [...] On 30 January 1933, Hitler was finally sworn in as chancellor at the head of a coalition government of Nazis and German Nationalists. Historians generally see the Depression as the principal cause of this political earthquake. ... Yet the historical puzzle remains: why did the Depression in Germany produce the Third Reich, while the other countries which were hit just as hard hit managed to retain democratic government and the rule of law? The rate of unemployment was nearly as high in the United States as in Germany in 1932; yet America voted for Roosevelt, who passed only two minor constitutional amendments in his twelve years as president, while Germans voted for Hitler, who overthrew not only the Weimer constitution but also the longer-established rule of law, deprived Germans of their political and civil rights, persecuted the Jews and other minority groups to the point of exterminating them and unleashed the most destructive war of modern times.It is the ability to frame such questions that makes Niall Ferguson such an important author of financial history. He makes us aware of just how closely intertwined the history of economics and politics are, and what politics of hate and fear can do to a country (indeed, the world). And he does it all in an entertaining biography of what sounds to many like the most boring of topics—the life of a banker.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.