The Downfall of Money By Frederick Taylor

Book review: The Downfall of MoneyFrederick Taylor's book is a compelling, if not authoritative, account of the horrors of hyperinflation.


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"For almost a century," writes Howard Davies in The Times, the German town of Weimar "has been fatally linked to the failure of Germany's first democratic experiment, and the associated hyperinflation."

The pain of seeing the mark collapse "from 4.2 to the dollar in 1914 to 4.2trn in 1923" shapes Germany's response to the eurozone crisis even today, turning its leaders into "the high priests of austerity and exchange-rate discipline".

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So Frederick Taylor's new book on the era, The Downfall of Money which Publishers Weekly calls a "chilling account of the human face of hyperinflation in the 1920s Weimar Republic" is certainly timely. And while Taylor "doesn't make heavy weather with the comparisons between what faced Germany after 1918 and the current eurozone crisis", the implicit parallels between the two mean that "this story resonates", says Thomas Quinn in The Big Issue.

The key lesson is that, "just as they did in the beginning of the 20th century, our economies rely on a complex web of global relationships we all need to work hard to understand".

Taylor's account is well organised and fast moving, says Kirkus Reviews. He identifies the "major players in his drama" early on, and "methodically traces the fall of the currency and growth of the debt", placing the story firmly in the context of the international drive for reparations and "the violent effects of internal political extremism".

However, the book "oversimplifies events at too many points", says Richard Evans in Prospect. That's partly because it is too broadly focused. "Deeper research would have enabled him to deploy his undoubted narrative skills in a more illuminating and more entertaining way than he does here." Instead, the book digresses "for scores of pages at a time into a general history of the Weimar Republic, especially its early years of violent instability instability that had little or nothing to do with the process of monetary inflation".

Taylor is not an economist, and it shows, agrees Davies. There is not enough focus on monetary theories about "the causes and consequences of inflation". And while it adds some "local colour", Taylor has uncovered no new or original sources. As a result, while the book "trots along at a friendly pace, looking occasionally to right and left", it fails to ask "hard questions about the purpose of the journey".

Adam Fergusson's book on the same topic, When Money Dies, published in 1975, "remains a surer guide to a seminal episode of German 20th-century history".

The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class by Frederick Taylor is published by Bloomsbury (£25).

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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