One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries by James Ledbetter
One Nation Under Gold examines the countervailing forces that have long since divided America―whether gold should be a repository of hope, or a damaging delusion that has long since derailed the rational investor.
Worshipped by Tea Party politicians but loathed by sane economists, gold has historically influenced American monetary policy and has exerted an often outsized influence on the national psyche for centuries. Now, acclaimed business writer James Ledbetter explores the tumultuous history and larger-than-life personalities―from George Washington to Richard Nixon―behind America’s volatile relationship to this hallowed metal and investigates what this enduring obsession reveals about the American identity.
Exhaustively researched and expertly woven, One Nation Under Gold begins with the nation’s founding in the 1770s, when the new republic erupted with bitter debates over the implementation of paper currency in lieu of metal coins. Concerned that the colonies’ thirteen separate currencies would only lead to confusion and chaos, some Founding Fathers believed that a national currency would not only unify the fledgling nation but provide a perfect solution for a country that was believed to be lacking in natural silver and gold resources.
Animating the “Wild West” economy of the nineteenth century with searing insights, Ledbetter brings to vivid life the actions of Whig president Andrew Jackson, one of gold’s most passionate advocates, whose vehement protest against a standardized national currency would precipitate the nation’s first feverish gold rush. Even after the establishment of a national paper currency, the virulent political divisions continued, reaching unprecedented heights at the Democratic National Convention in 1896, when presidential aspirant William Jennings Bryan delivered the legendary “Cross of Gold” speech that electrified an entire convention floor, stoking the fears of his agrarian supporters.
While Bryan never amassed a wide-enough constituency to propel his cause into the White House, America’s stubborn attachment to gold persisted, wreaking so much havoc that FDR, in order to help rescue the moribund Depression economy, ordered a ban on private ownership of gold in 1933. In fact, so entrenched was the belief that gold should uphold the almighty dollar, it was not until 1973 that Richard Nixon ordered that the dollar be delinked from any relation to gold―completely overhauling international economic policy and cementing the dollar’s global significance. More intriguing is the fact that America’s exuberant fascination with gold has continued long after Nixon’s historic decree, as in the profusion of late-night television ads that appeal to goldbug speculators that proliferate even into the present.
One Nation Under Gold reveals as much about American economic history as it does about the sectional divisions that continue to cleave our nation, ultimately becoming a unique history about economic irrationality and its influence on the American psyche.
16 pages of illustrationsLIVERIGHT
One Nation Under Gold – Editorial Reviews
“[A] chronicle of the American people’s fascination with gold. . . . [Ledbetter’s] well-spun narrative spans the better part of four centuries.”
– James Grant, Wall Street Journal
“A surprisingly readable history of U.S. fiscal policy. Starting with America’s earliest currencies . . . the book traces the chaotic end of the gold standard and dissects our modern obsession with trying to bring it back . . . . [Ledbetter’s] measured, persuasive conclusion after surveying two centuries of haphazard fiscal decision making is that a return to a gold standard would be a deeply bad idea. Consider this a must read for the gold bugs in your life”
– Anne VanderMey, Fortune
“Everyone is familiar with gold but few know of its complex history―until now, thanks to James Ledbetter’s skillful storytelling.”
– Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize–winning economist and best-selling author of The Great Divide
“What an original, imaginative book! Bristling with ideas, this lucid history reveals the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of gold’s role in the American experience. So doing, it illuminates, informs, and provokes.”
– Ira Katznelson, author of the Bancroft Prize–winning Fear Itself
“I learned an interesting new fact on nearly every page of One Nation Under Gold, but I also learned more than facts: James Ledbetter shows us how men have been transfixed by this metal and the folly that has resulted from that obsession. A gripping story, and a history that has had far more influence over policy in the United States than you might think.”
– Michael Tomasky, editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas
“The material on the gold crisis of the 1960s is really superb―without question the best treatment I have seen of this issue. This was the issue Johnson faced, combined with Vietnam and racial backlash.”
– Julian Zelizer, author of The Fierce Urgency of Now
“[This] is the first book to really make sense of the tumultuous and entertaining history of Americans’ obsession with gold, brilliantly illuminating how our fascination with the precious metal has shaped our national psyche, sparked political turmoil, and exerted a powerful and often malignant influence on economic policy.”
– James Surowiecki
James Ledbetter is the editor of Inc. magazine and the author or editor of five previous books. His writing on business and politics has appeared in The New Yorker, the Nation, the New York Times, and many other publications.
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