“The Battle of Bretton Woods”, by Benn Steil – A Book Review

To be fair, the complete name of the book is “The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order”. This title kind of raises the expectations, doesn’t it?

Bretton Woods is, for most people outside of the economics field, just one of those expressions that specialists use to drive others away. It is the kind of expression mentioned when somebody needs to describe the redefinition of the economical order – or even more, the redesign of a financial system. Sounds like a big thing – and it actually is – Bretton Woods represented, in the aftermath of the 2nd world war, the place were the winning nations redesigned the monetary system and shaped what we have today in terms of financial flows globalization.

But don’t get me wrong – “The Battle of Bretton Woods” tells the story of the story, not of the technicalities behind. In retrospective, most historical decisions look usually logical and inevitable. The best history books, such as this one, do justice to the topic and show how intrigues and rivalries between the leading nations shaped the history at that moment. And boy, this was history – in this middle town of new Hampshire the dollar would become, after many strenuous battles, the currency of choice for international trade. This choice propelled US at the nexus of the modern economy, making it noit only the most powerful economy in the world, but also its guardian of choice. “The Battle of Bretton Woods”  how US became the biggest creditor nation, how the US banks started to do deals with other governments, why the international trade still takes place mostly in dollars – and so on. Many reasons just to read it, right?

Besides the technical aspects, “The Battle of Bretton Woods” goes into the details of those personalities who shaped a big part of the modern world finance. Keynes looks like the perfect English gentleman, always willing to strike a compromise when this advantages his general theory. Hary Dexter White strikes the reader as one of the most principial actors of his time, often at odds with the mandate he received from his bosses. Both try to reach a subtle equilibrium of power – Dexter White understanding and admiring the England’s logical stance (but in a weak post-war negotiation position), Keyes understanding US’s fight for power and fast ascension as a world leader.

Did everything play well at the end? Given the so advanced status of the modern global economy, one could say so. It is up to you to read the book and confirm this!

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