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Saving the City: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 Hardcover – 28 Nov 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (28 Nov. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199646546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199646548
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3.6 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Roberts has made a distinguished and scholarly contribution to the genre of financial history, and yet his account of the various back-room negotiations between politicians, bureaucrats and bankers has all the elements of a thriller. (Christopher Silvester, Spear's)

He [Roberts] has been able to call on a range of perceptive and wonderfully written financial journalism in order to track the details of events. This is supplemented by some unpublished memoirs and letters, and books written during the ten or so years after the crisis. Using them has enabled him to explore dark corners as well as well-lit rooms, and the result is a convincing and important contribution to national and international history. Richard Robert's analysis shows the interrelationship of politics and finance: Saving the City is an important book, both thought-provoking and entertaining. (Kathleen Burk, The Times Literary Suppliment)

The only major book-lenght treatment of this topic to appear since 1915. (Jamie Martin, London Review of Books)

This is a formidable piece of scholarship and should be in the Christmas stockings of George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls. (Keith Simpson,

Lucid and masterly. The story of a financial crisis, when told with the knowledge and skill of a Richard Roberts, is a mix of detective story (the gory but fascinating details of what happened and who did it) and compelling political and social history. (From the Foreword by Lord King of Lothbury, former Governor of the Bank of England)

If Roberts's book had been available at the time, [many people in the Bank of England] would immediately have realised that the 2007-08 crisis was not simply one of the liquidity of the financial system but also of solvency." (William Keegan, The Observer)

A timely reminder that if we don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past then we first need to understand them. (George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer)

A fascinating insight into a half-forgotten crisis. Written with a verve and clarity that any reader can savour. (Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong and A Week in December)

A masterly account of the financial crisis that brought the first great age of globalization to a close. Richard Roberts's narrative is finely wrought and wholly absorbing. (John Plender, Columnist, Financial Times)

This is a superbly researched, calmly authoritative, and finely told account of a momentous episode in modern financial history. Richard Roberts has a formidable grasp of the technical intricacies but is also fully alive to the human dimension, as politicians, mandarins, bankers, and others jostle in not always seemly pursuit of self-preservation as well as the greater good. The drama of 1914 may until now have been the "unknown" financial crisis; that is assuredly the case no longer. (David Kynaston, author The City of London, 1815-2000.)

Richard Roberts is an authority on the history of the City of London. He has brought his great expertise to the hitherto largely unexplored financial crisis of 1914. A masterly study brought to life with extensive quotation from contemporaries. (Forrest Capie, Professor Emeritus of Economic History, Cass Business School.)

Professor Roberts has a light touch in this complex landscape. (International Financing Review)

About the Author

Richard Roberts is Professor of Contemporary History at the Institute of Contemporary British History at King's College London. He has held fellowships at Downing College, Cambridge, Princeton University, and the Bank of England. He specialises in financial history and is author of many publications in this field including histories of City investment bank Schroders (1992) and consortium bank Orion (2001). His contemporary studies Wall Street (2002) and The City (2008) are published by The Economist.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By tertius lydgate on 30 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover
With so many 100 anniversary First World War books rehashing well known stuff, it is very refreshing to come across a completely new aspect. Prof Roberts provides a really lucid account of the financial crash set off by the outbreak of war and how it was handled by the authorities and main players. There are many uncanny parallels with the recent credit crunch; but it is also very revealing of the society of the time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Helen Payne on 22 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How many people knew there was a global crash in 1914? Fascinating insight into the period around the beginning of WW1, and will be different from a lot of books published this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war. A great addition to the bookshelves!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Not the easiest read but a fascinating story
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A very good book all around 5 Jun. 2014
By Mark bennett - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent from both a history and an economics point of view. It also seems very original which is a major accompiishment for any book dealing with the world war one era.

It tells the largely untold story of the economic crisis of 1914 which afterward was overshadowed by the war and other events. In 1914, London was the center of the financial world and of the world's trade. While the world operated on a gold standard, behind the scenes the world largely operated on bills of exchange issued and traded through London. Trade between many countries was "cleared" financial through London.

The threat of war in July 1914 lead to investors all over Europe pulling money out of investments into cash. It systematically turned into a global "stock market" run with nearly all of the major exchanges eventually halting trading. That led to bank runs in various countries shortly after and then the money markets that finananced international trade locking up.

The British government responded to the crisis quickly and very definatively. The government bought up assets, loaned money to institutions to keep them functioning and even printed money. The state engaged in an open-ended intervention to save the global financial system. Ultimately the crisis is so little remembered because the government intervention to stop it was so successful.

There were however consequences. The banks were at the mercy of the government for the duration of the war in terms of raising money for the war. Events also put an end to London's place at the center of world trade and saw its role as a financial center eclipsed by New York.

In terms of history, the crisis somewhat flushes out events around Europe going to war in 1914. The leaders were not simply dealing with a political crisis, but at the most important moments many of them were dealing with a massive economic crisis as well. It opens up the whole (I think unanswered) question of how much time the leaders of the various governments spend on the economic crisis in the runup to war and how it affected their decisions.

In terms of economics, there are odd parallels to the 2008 crisis. Enormously complicated financial instruments had been created by the banks to provide liquidity. But that liquidity was combined with massive not well understood liabilities which only came to light once the system failed. The book also sort of puts a major hole in the political theory that trade interdependencies between states can prevent wars. It was not the case in 1914. No amount of financial consequences could stop the states from going to war. And in the case of the British, if war required bailing out the entire financial system, it would be done.

Its a good book for telling a story that has largely been neglected and a story that sheds new historical light on the whole question of bailing out the financial sector in a crisis. I also found it very informative in explaining how the gold standard worked in practice at the time which is not at all the way many describe it as working. Even back in 1914, the gold standard had been subverted to a point where little physical gold was transported and huge amounts of liquidity unconnected with physical gold could be created through the banking system. It was somewhat of an eye opener at least to me.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Five stars, no question 29 Aug. 2014
By Peter Mathenge - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read Roberts' fine book in one and a half sittings. Exhaustively researched and well written. A book about a forgotten crisis should be dry and tedious. Roberts' work is concise, accessible and exciting.
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