4 out of 4 stars
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With a worldwide economic downturn expected to result from the current Covid-19 pandemic, A Short History of Significant American Recessions, Depressions, and Panics by Scott Belford could not be timelier. Following an explanation of fundamental economic theories and terms, with particular emphasis on the difference between a recession and a depression, the book profiles twenty-five of the worst financial declines America has experienced since 1797. Each profile includes information on the duration of the event, possible causes, key politicians in office at the time, and steps taken (if any) to improve the economy.
By including descriptions of the political maneuvering around each disastrous financial event, the author provides an eye-opening view of American history. This adult version is much more enlightening than the lessons most American children learn in school. As early as 1877, for instance, President Rutherford B. Hayes recognized the contribution that income inequality can make to an economic crisis, calling it "the danger which transcends all others."
Separate chapter headings for each financial downturn allow the reader to either peruse the entire history or dip into selected historical periods according to personal preference. Detailed profiles of every political party's principles and values at each point in time are equally key to understanding the material. For example, there is a great difference between the Democratic Party of 1850 and the party of the same name in 2020. Although there are copious footnotes, the writing is not remotely in the style of an academic treatise. It is simple and direct, giving clear explanations of all specialized terminology. There are only a few typos, and they do not cause any problems with comprehension.
Altogether, this delightful book is an entertaining and educational read. The only minor criticism I could make relates to the coverage of the most recent recession, that of 2008. In this section, the author offers extensive details – complete with charts – on the "head and shoulders" pattern of stock prices preceding and announcing the recession. This type of analysis is complex and highly technical; it does not match the straightforward style of the rest of the book.
A Short History of Significant American Recessions, Depressions, and Panics deserves 4 out of 4 stars for its superb organization, understandable writing, enjoyable views of American history, and intriguing ideas about the reasons for economic crises. It is an ideal source for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how a country's economy works and how actions by government or private industry may affect the country as a whole and the personal finances of individuals. However, readers with advanced training in economic theory and analysis might find it a little too elementary.
A Short History of Significant American Recessions, Depressions, and Panics
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