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When Money Dies: The nightmare of the Weimar Hyper-Inflation [Paperback]

Adam Fergusson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Aug 2010
This is, I believe, a moral tale. It goes far to prove the revolutionary axiom that if you wish to destroy a nation you must corrupt its currency. Thus must sound money be the first bastion of a society's defence.

In 1923, with its currency effectively worthless (the exchange rate in December of that year was one dollar to 4,200,000,000,000 marks), the Weimar Republic was all but reduced to a barter economy. Expensive cigars, artworks and jewels were routinely exchanged for staples such as bread; a cinema ticket could be bought for a lump of coal, and a bottle of paraffin for a silk shirt. In desperation, the Bavarian Prime Minister submitted a Bill to the Reichsrat proposing that gluttony be made a penal offence -- his exact definition of a glutton being 'one who habitually devotes himself to the pleasures of the table to such a degree that he might arouse discontent in view of the distressful condition of the population'.

Since its first publication in 1975, When Money Dies has become the classic history of these bizarre and frightening times. Weaving elegant analysis with a wealth of eyewitness accounts by ordinary people struggling to survive, it deals above all with the human side of inflation: why governments resort to it, the dismal, corruptive pestilence it visits on their citizens, the agonies of recovery, and the dark, long-term legacy. And at a time of acute economic strain, it provides an urgent warning against the addictive dangers of printing money -- shorthand for deficit financing -- as a soft option for governments faced with growing unrest and unemployment.

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When Money Dies: The nightmare of the Weimar Hyper-Inflation + This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Old Street Publishing (2 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906964440
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906964443
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 79,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The Prime Minister would do well to put copies of this fascinating history beside every bed in Chequers'
The Times

'The narrative has its own compelling pace -- the pace of runaway inflation'

'Dazzling journalism'
Daily Telegraph

'Excellent . . . One is left with utter disbelief that people could return to normality from such a monetary madhouse'
Financial Times - --...

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Germany continued the descent into hell... 20 Oct 2010
By William Cohen VINE VOICE
Reading the history of German from 1914 - 1945 you realise that equable prosperity in Europe is a wonderful thing, and under no circumstances should it be taken for granted.

The suffering that the German people endured is unimaginable for us today. Fergusson's book covers chapter two, the consequences of the inflation that got into the economy during the First World War and the Governments addiction to printing money as a solution. Last year, I wrote a memoir of a heroin addict, and I can see parallels. The German Government didn't want to face the pain that would come when inflation was halted, so they carried on, despite warnings. They couldn't grasp that by increasing the money supply they debased the currency. In fact this book shows that once a Government is on a path, in the same way as once an addict is on a path, the madness has to burn itself out. Reason and alternative policies are not going to be pursued until the the bitter end has been reached, and then the turning point tends to be a bit of a mystery.

The book is written in an elegant style, and doesn't feel at all dated. I found myself looking up the characters who appear in the drama on Wikipedia - Rathenau, Stinne, Ludendorff, Schacht, and D'Abernon, which gave a deeper perspective. It's a cautionary tale, but the circumstances that caused it were unique, and, with hope, we understand how a currency works much better now.
My theory is that societies and human beings have to go through traumatic and self-destructive periods to learn lessons. When they forget those lessons over time, they are likely to repeat the same mistakes, and there's not a lot you can do to prevent it.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marked, Indelibly at Thirteen! 24 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I came across this book while browsing on Amazon, purely by chance. I hadn't actual knowledge of it's existence yet I had been hoping for it's like for over sixty three years. Why? Sometime during the gloomy autumn/winter dark nights of 1947 when I was thirteen I had brought my father his late edition of the London Evening Standard - a six nights a week errand. Barely had I handed him his paper than he leapt from his bomb damaged armchair in a fit of rage the like of which was unparalleled in my youthful experience. I stood there, in the living room, astonished, stunned, terrified! What ever had I done? Fortunately, nothing. I was merely the messenger, not the culprit; a fact for which I continue to give thanks - my father had a violent temper! What ever motivated this outburst, so etched into my memory? It was that night's headline which simply conveyed to the reader the information of a one farthing(a then, 1/960Th. part of the pound, sterling) on a particular item. Had he spiralled through the ceiling, I don't believe it would have amazed me, such was the blood-vessel-bursting fury, of his tirade. Like all such rage it was spurred by very deep emotional scars from which finally, I was able to garner that his concerned was rooted in 1920s Austro/Hungarian/Germanic economic and fiscal history; by then, and in the wake of the second world war barely a scant memory, even in the minds of quite well informed mature adults. His vision on that dark night was the very real nightmare of the Weimar Hyper-Inflation as so memorably he ranted: "We'll be taking carrier-bags of money to try to buy a loaf of bread before we're finished, like they did in Germany after the first World War". Read more ›
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94 of 98 people found the following review helpful
A lot of misinformation with regards to this topic is spread, which this books clears up. First off, hyperinflation was set in motion as a direct result of failing to balance the books; running unsustainable deficits. With limited access to debt markets in the wake of WW1, the easy way out was to simply print money. And once in motion, refusing to raise interest rates, which would have increased savings, the population soon lost all faith in the currency.

The ultimate solution - introduce a new commodity-backed currency; the Rentenmark, and balance the books.

It is interesting to note the three reasons why it kept going for as long as it did - one, the authorities knew that balancing the books would lead to an increase in unemployment, two, printing was politically the easy solution, and three, (much like in Argentina in 1989) the authorities in large had an interest in keeping the inflationary scheme going.

It is also almost saddening that almost as soon as the hyperinflation chapter had passed, both the public and private sector indebted themselves up to their eyeballs, the precursor to the Great Depression.

The primary focus of the book is Germany, but both Austria and Hungary are included. Definitely recommended.
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144 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The welcome return of a dark classic 13 July 2010
Reading, and digesting, `When Money Dies' is not particularly easy. In financial terms it is the equivalent of a snuff movie. For the sensitive of spirit, the experience is truly heart-rending. For this is not a fictional phantasmagoria; the extraordinary sequence of events within it genuinely happened, to real people.

As those schoolchildren who are still taught anything are told, the seeds of the Weimar hyper-inflation, like those of the Second World War, were sown in the ashes of the First World War, and most pressingly by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The Allies, and most notably the French, were determined to bleed Germany dry. Be careful what you wish for..

Germany could never hope to make good on the burden of Allied reparations forced on her. But few, Keynes perhaps apart, could have foreseen the extraordinary sequence of events that were to culminate in the economic firestorm of Weimar 1923, when sovereign allegiance to the printing press caused an entire currency and national economy to implode upon themselves. A few examples from Adam Fergusson may convey in some small way the surreal horror of what came to befall the largely unwitting populace, and political base, of Germany:

"In October 1923 it was noted in the British Embassy in Berlin that the number of marks to the pound equalled the number of yards to the sun. Dr Schacht, Germany's National Currency Commissioner, explained that at the end of the Great War one could in theory have bought 500,000,000,000 eggs for the same price as that for which, five years later, only a single egg was procurable. When stability returned, the sum of paper marks needed to buy a gold mark was precisely equal to the quantity of square millimetres in a square kilometre.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't imagine a better book about the subject
This must be the ultimate book about Germany in the 20'ies - ind inflation in general. It is superbly written, describes both the political side and the practical side of the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jacob la Cour
5.0 out of 5 stars Money and its importance to the human race
Until I read this book I never understood that the seeds that led to the outbreak of the WW II were sown during the inter war years in how Germany was treated by the allies. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Albert Cole
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok but not great
The eye witness accounts and the attempts to make the scale of numbers work is good. What is bad is almost no attempt to explain or expand on the economic machinery underlying it... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Christopher S Grand
3.0 out of 5 stars A serious subject reviewed well
I found it interesting but did not like the style of Writing.The text in places could have made the story more understandable.
Published 9 months ago by Gordon Bromberger
5.0 out of 5 stars money printing madness
Very informative and perspective on condition s that allowed Hitler to seize power., interesting view on a topical subject given current money printing. Free!
Published 9 months ago by Ginga
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spooky Parallel
This is a massively interesting book with spooky parallels to today's money-printing excesses. It is written almost exclusively from an economic standpoint. Read more
Published 12 months ago by JMAnderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique book
The Weimar hyperinflation conjures up images of universal suffering. Yet, as Adam Fergusson explains, there were plenty of winners too. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Michael Oswald
5.0 out of 5 stars "Those who Ignor History remain a Child" -Cicero 55BC.
This is one of those classic records which everyone must read.The total abstract agony that France forced Germany into after the First World War was unbelievably catastophic. Read more
Published 14 months ago by reTYRED Carpenter.
4.0 out of 5 stars What Goes Around, Comes Around
Heavy on numbers and written in a dry, detached style, this can be a bit of a slog at times. Nevertheless it's compelling, in a car-crash kind of way, because the reader knows that... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Nick Lincoln
5.0 out of 5 stars When Money Dies: The Best History for this Period is Economic
I have just finished reading When Money Dies and my eyes have been opened. I will read it again because some of the economic concepts are not easy to grasp, and I persevered... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dr. Pvf Cosgrove
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