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The Great Crash 1929 (Penguin Business) Paperback – 29 Oct 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (29 Oct. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140136096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140136098
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 368,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Rampant speculation. Record trading volumes. Assets bought not because of their value but because the buyer believes he can sell them for more in a day or two, or an hour or two. Welcome to the late 1920s in the US. There are obvious and absolute parallels to the great bull market of the late 1990s, writes Galbraith in a new introduction dated 1997. Of course, Galbraith notes, every financial bubble since 1929 has been compared to the Great Crash, which is why this book has never been out of print since it became a bestseller in 1955.

Galbraith writes with great wit and erudition about the perilous actions of investors and the curious inaction of the government. He notes that the problem wasn't a scarcity of securities to buy and sell: "The ingenuity and zeal with which companies were devised in which securities might be sold was as remarkable as anything." Those words become strikingly relevant in light of revenue-negative start-up companies coming into the market each week in the 1990s, along with fragmented pieces of established companies, like real estate and bottling plants. Of course, the 1920s were different from the 1990s. There was no safety net below citizens, no unemployment insurance or Social Security. And today we don't have the creepy investment trusts--in which shares of companies that held some stocks and bonds were sold for several times the assets' market value. But, boy, are the similarities spooky, particularly the prevailing trend at the time toward corporate mergers and industry consolidations--not to mention all the partially informed people who imagined themselves to be financial geniuses because the shares of stock they bought kept going up. --Lou Schuler,

About the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote more than 30 books, spanning four decades. He was awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Oxford, the University of Paris and Moscow University. He was the Paul M Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University. He died in 2006.

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4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. I. Mackenzie VINE VOICE on 10 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a surprisingly good reference on the 1929 crash. The book is very readable considering the subject matter. For me the run up to the crash got a bit too much detail whereas the details of aftermath and solutions got less attention than I would have liked. He also focuses on trivia about suicide rates which is quite entertaining but doesn't seem to the point (which for me is to understand and avoid these kind of wild crashes).

We seem to have duplicated the conditions of this crash almost exactly in 2008 and indulged in the same property and derivative based speculation. It's also interesting that JK Galbraith goes against current (neo-liberal) orthodoxy e.g. the rich having too much money is destabilising rather than it being a benefit as 'trickle down' theory suggests.

So a good solid history, perhaps a little light on solutions. But, by ignoring history we seem to have repeated it.
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One of the most surprising and delightful things that I found about the book, particularly in view of the potentially heavy subject matter, was how wonderfully readable Professor Galbraith is. There are not that many world renowned experts in any field who can write as well as they can understand their subject. It's a bit like finding that a world class footballer can also play first violin. This book reads like the work of a top drawer professional writer who has immersed him/herself in the subject for a period and, with ongoing expert guidance and hands-on editing, has brought the subject home in fine style. It reads to me a bit like Tom Wolfe (of the Right Stuff etc), wonderfully literate, sardonic prose. It really is quite unexpected. Marvellous. You will have more than one chuckle out loud which may raise one of the live-in's eyebrows. Chuckling at economics now? Hmmm.

Anyway, the stock market fell, measured by the Times Industrial Average, from 542 down to 224, from October through Nov 1929, and then more gradually to only 58, basically a tenth of its peak 1929 value, by July 1932. Drastic times indeed. This residual value that the market held, 58, in 1932, was roughly the same amount by which the market fell, in only one day, 28/10/1929, Black Thursday. The Professor's contention seems to be that the Depression and the Crash, while not totally unrelated, were less connected than popular opinion held then, or holds now. The contention is that prior to the crash, that the economy was not fundamentally sound. Although there were no glaring warning signs in the economic indicators reported in the first half of 1929, there were some red lights flickering. The Professor goes on to detail and explain those. Of course I am still no expert on what happened in 1929 and why.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By tallmanbaby TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 7 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
I bought this book alongside Depression Economics by Paul Krugman, and rather left it to one side. I've only just got round to reading it, and I have been very pleasantly surprised. Knowing that it was a classic text on the subject, I rather expected it to be dry and worthy. It is completely the opposite. After the first few pages, it quickly picks up pace and is an absolute page turner. There are not many books that I find I cannot put down, but this was one of them. I won't pretend to understand everything, and there are many out of date references that go over my head, but the big message is loud and clear. Largely based on newspaper reports, often tracing the story over individual days, people thought they could not lose, and borrowed money to invest. Confidence slipped, and then crashed catastrophically.

It is easy now to imagine you would be immune to such folly, but by the end I could easily envisage myself getting caught up in the mood of the time.

On the minus side, the quality of the printing is poor, with smudgy text. This is not an economics text book, you might learn about the psychology of the time, and think about the economics, but it does not provide glib answers. However, the mark of a good book, it leaves you wanting to know more.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 July 2004
Format: Paperback
Having recently lived through the crash of the dot-com stocks, I thought it was a particularly appropriate moment to reread John Kenneth Galbraith's famous history of the stock market crash of 1929 in the United States. Professor Galbraith's final words prove to be prophetic as he suggests that as soon as the lessons of 1929 are forgotten, the speculative excesses that led to that debacle will recur. I am sure that when the dot-bomb experience is forgotten, it will be repeated with some new class of speculation in some future generation.
With the recent experience of seeing a market mania, I came away more impressed with this book than before. Professor Galbraith does a fine job of capturing the psychology that builds into and sustains a mania. He also writes like a novelist rather than like an economist. That talent makes the message easy to grasp and appreciate.
I was also impressed by how our popular perceptions of 1929 are so often wrong. For example, most people believe that many "broken" speculators committed suicide. Although some did, there was no significant rise in the suicide rate compared to a general trend in that direction.
Economists often like to fault the Federal Reserve for the crash. That blame seems somewhat misplaced when you learn that there was very little government debt that the Fed could repurchase to create liquidity. Had the Fed acted differently, the crash might have come a little sooner and not been quite so severe . . . but the fundamentals would probably not have changed too much.
Another misperception is that everyone was speculating. By even the most generous measures, the speculators probably never numbered over a million people.
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