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"The Wealth of Shadows" | Reviewed by William Winkler

The Bretton Woods Conference, held in New Hampshire in July 1944, was a meeting of the top economists of all 44 Allied nations then engaged in World War II against Germany, Italy and Japan. Its goal was the establishment of an international financial system for the post-war world to guard against the economic issues that had in part led to the war.

            Graham Moore’s book of historical fiction, “The Wealth of Shadows” is centered on the conference, the events leading up to it, and the principals involved in the decisions that arose from the meeting.

            The central figure of the narrative is Ansel Luxford, a Minnesota tax attorney who in 1939 is recruited to be a member of a clandestine Treasury Department team dedicated to discovering methods by which the Nazi regime of Germany, already beginning its campaign to conquer all of Europe, can be crippled economically, ending its visions of empire.

            It was necessary for this team to do its work in secret. In 1939 the official policy of the U.S. government was absolute neutrality toward the growing European conflict. American political opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to involvement in “their war,” Antisemitism was prevalent in the country as well. A small but influential group within the State Department was effective in blocking Treasury’s attempts to find ways to aid the British and the French in their struggle against Germany without going against stated American policy.

            As the narrative builds, the personal and philosophical antagonism between top U.S. economist Harry Dexter White and British economist John Maynard Keynes takes center stage. The account of how one of these economists outfoxed the other at the Bretton Woods conference is richly detailed, underscoring the impact the conference’s outcome had on the post war world.

            All of the major characters in the novel are based on real participants in the economic to-and-fro in the years prior to and during World War II. Much of the dialog is based on real interactions between the characters and all of the public statements from major players are taken verbatim from transcripts or publications of their speeches and pronouncements.

            Readers who make their way through Moore’s deeply researched and tautly written novel will emerge with a new appreciation for the complexities of international finance as well as its implications for international relations. The author could have left the reader overwhelmed with technical details, but he does an admirable job of keeping the narrative lively and engaging.

            Buy the Book.


 

 

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