on 21 April 2008
It is a sad fact that this book, republished in 2003, has yet to be reviewed here. Admittedly, Economic and Diplomatic History can be a dry read, but anyone who takes the trouble to persist with this author will be handsomely rewarded with a shocking tale that rewrites a lot of 20th century history in a strongly explanatory way.
For example, you thought it was Hitler who started WW2? Sure, he was the proximate cause, but for imposing the dreadful history of economic collapse that paved the way for Hitler in Germany, please step forward US Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and FDR. Yes, FDR, hero of the social democratic left, inventor of the New Deal. By scuppering the London Economic Conference in the summer of 1932, to the consternation even of his own delegates, he made Hitler a virtual certainty (while not willing the end, he inadvertently willed the means). This gives a bitter twist to Philip Roth's novel, The Plot Against America; if FDR had taken the action Hoover tried to engineer (too late, and FDR rejected it) on Allied war debt he might never have had to face the pressures he did from pro-Nazi Americans in the later 30s and early 40s. There would not have been a Nazi government in Germany for them to back and lobby for. And with no WW2, no enlarged Soviet Union, either, no Cold War - everything could have been different and possibly tens, even hundreds, of millions need not have died (relatively few of them Americans, be it noted).
Hudson writes clearly and strongly, achieving elegance and verve sometimes for pages together, although mostly his prose is rugged and workmanlike. If you care about the world today and how it got to be the way it is, you have to know what is in this book. That Hudson's account remains widely unknown suggests T. S. Eliot was never more perceptive than when he wrote that "humankind/Cannot bear too much reality." That's the only reason I can think of. This history should be general knowledge, and should have been for the past 70 years.
If you think you might want to read this book, don't hesitate. These comments only cover the first few chapters; the book provides a good economic history right through to the 1970s and beyond. The US has been the world's chief monetary power for almost a century and this is the only book I have yet encountered that tells the story of what its government did with that privilege and what it has cost the rest of the world. American or not, you will read this and weep.