13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2013
I always open Fred Taylor's books with a sense of great anticipation. His style brings alive what it was like to be there - and this book is no exception. How did one survive - and some thrive - when the mark to the US$ exchange rate went from 4.19 in August 1914 to 6.7 trillion in December 1923? We find out.
Who was to blame? Just about everyone had some role. The Germans actually had a policy of allowing inflation since this wiped out internal debt, much of it owed to the upper middle class, leading to a massive social upheaval and loss of class privilege on an unprecedented level. The Americans refused to even discuss forgiving any of the war debt owed by all of the major European powers, forcing France, one of the largest debtors, to insist on impossibly high reparations by the Germans. Britain supported France but pressed for more realistic repayments. France, after defaults by Germany, invaded and occupied the Ruhr causing Germany even more problems both politically and financially. How could any German government hold all this together?
Internally, few Germans accepted that the war was their fault and most believed the reparations were unjust. Organised labour, flirting dangerously close to Communism, was pitted against anti-Republicans (who controlled the remains of the militia). After years of carting around wheelbarrows full of worthless paper marks, both sides were clamouring for a strong dictatorship to restore order. Enter Corporal Hitler.
Although there is a great deal of information conveyed in the book, Fred Taylor makes it exciting and accessible. It is quite a story and, if like me, you did not know or had forgotten much of the detail, you have a treat in store. It is commonplace to blame the Treaty of Versailles for the Second World War, but, like most things, it was a lot more complex than that. This book reveals all.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2013
This is the author's fourth book on German history. This is a study of the hyperinflation that befell the Weimar Republic in the early 1920s.It is presented in his usual style and was a pleasure to read. He offers a confident analysis without being partisan. He combines the views of experts, such as Keynes, with the diaries of ordinary folk, such as a schoolteacher. For Frederick Taylor history is lived. This is a book for the academic and for the general reader.
Economics may not be a science but can be very obscure. I am not an economist. This book offers a clear and credible explanation of why the mark collapsed from an exchange rate of 4.2 to the US dollar in 1913 to 4.2 trillion [just add 12 zeroes] in 1923. To finance the war Germany borrowed from its middle class and printed money; once the war was won the defeated would meet the bill. The problem was that Germany lost and the victors added their costs to Germany's own at Versailles. Thereafter the new German democracy felt a degree of inflation was a good idea - the debt it owed to its own citizens was reduced; additionally, to reward those who had fought for the fatherland money was printed to provide jobs and benefits. It could not meet reparations as demanded in the peace treaties.
When an impatient France occupied the Ruhr the system collapsed and the mark ceased to be a viable currency. Germany was saved by Stresemann who essentially introduced a new currency - the Rentenmark - and severely limited the amount in circulation. The effect was that a war debt of 150 billion marks became 15 pfennigs. The savings of the middle class vanished. I am sure there is more to it all than that, but I could get what Taylor was arguing here. The book also describes the political confusion and violence of the period, both cause and consequence of the economic crisis. Much is familiar but I was unaware how close to civil war the country came as Communist Saxony's paramilitaries confronted Bavaria's stormtroopers.
Frederick Taylor provides many telling quotes. The most memorable comes from Keynes. Reflecting on the fortune he lost speculating on the mark in 1922 he noted "how little bankers and servant girls know of history and economics".
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2015
This reader has always been interested in the period between the two world wars. Having read Erik Larson’s ‘In the Garden of Beasts’, Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ and several books on Hitler, the true history of the period was still as indecipherable as the Bayeux Tapestry from 100 yards and I was none the wiser as to the REAL reasons why a second World War could have followed on so quickly from its predecessor. The Downfall of Money allowed me to walk up close and examine each thread of the tapestry in fine detail.
It’s not an easy story to tell, but Frederick Taylor has done a masterful job. The depth and breadth of research required to make sense of the unfathomable takes a keen eye. And the ability to make it palatable to someone who is neither an economist nor an historian takes the skill of a good storyteller. The result is a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte of rich delights. This isn’t a book that can be read in large helpings, because there’s a lot to take in and process. I dipped in and out of it over a four month period, but thoroughly enjoyed every slice.
My particular interest is Hitler’s rise to power. Those elements that brought this about were as random as the roulette table. It was the perfect storm. Hyperinflation followed by depression. The wrong people getting assassinated. The right people getting assassinated. Leniency shown where it shouldn’t have been. Given a longer prison sentence in 1924, Hitler never could have gotten his snowball rolling. But this book isn’t really about Hitler. During the crucial period between the Armistice and 1923, a cast of characters previously unknown to me (Rathenau, Stinnes, Stresemann, Ebert, Ludendorff, Helfferich etc) tried in vain to steer their defeated nation through the economic fallout caused by impossible reparation demands, political jockeying between right and left, dire food shortages and, not least of all, galloping inflation that saw the value of the Mark against the dollar rise from 4.9 in 1914 to 4.2 trillion at the end of 1923.
The Downfall of Money isn’t light reading but I’d recommend it to anyone.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2013
Women went to market with a wheelbarrow full of banknotes, what should have been generous legacies were paid over in full with a postage stamp. This was hyper-inflation which almost destroyed the German middle classs in 1923, and led, almost directly, to the rise of Nazism and everything that followed. It's a fascinating, horrifying and frightening episode in history, brilliantly described in this book, which is as gripping as a thriller - except that every word is true. Highly recommended.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2013
a superb an exceptionally well researched and written history, of why hyperinflation occurred in Germany the aftermath of the first world war set against the world political backdrop of the time. thought provoking and informative, anyone interested in social history when money becomes worthless should read this book. in fact, anyone should read it who has an interest in their personal wealth and how it can disappear in a flash when the perfect "economic storm" occurs.
on 29 November 2013
Taylor's books are always very well researched and written.'The Downfall of Money' is no exception. From the roots of the 'downfall,' to it's eventual impact on Germany (and the world!) this is a real page turner. The pervading sense that history is now repeating itself makes this even more chilling and important a read. Highly recommended.
on 2 February 2015
Excellent and readable account of a bizarre but portentous period of German history - helps to explain not just the rise of Nazism and the horrors of the second world war and the holocaust etc., but also the current German government's resistance of unorthodox methods to reflate the Eurozone 90 years later.
on 15 March 2015
Fascinating and very important to read to learn about a background to the rise of Nazi-ism
on 30 July 2015
Enthralling, frightening. It is difficult to read as ' an innocent bystander'.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2014
Go go Alabama!