Empire of Wealth, An
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Throughout time, from ancient Rome to modern Britain, the great empires built and maintained their domination through force of arms and political power. But not the United States. America has dominated the world in a new, peaceful, and pervasive way -- through the continued creation of staggering wealth. In this authoritative, engrossing history, John Steele Gordon captures as never before the true source of our nation's global influence: wealth and the capacity to create more of it.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Customer Reviews:

  • One of my Favorite authors
    One of my favorite books I read was "The Great Game" by John Steele Gordon

    which is the reason why I bought this book, it was very informative but it got me upset a lot for some reason that I haven't been able to identify yet

    I had to quit reading it with 75 pages left

    It would be a great book if I were a Capitalist which I am not, I think I got really angry because I was reading about how Capitalism really is I did learn a lot about my country though which is more saddening than anything though

    1. money-stock market and corporations
    2. beauty-Hollywood and whores

    ...more info
  • A well written history book
    An Empire of Wealth is one of the most interesting American history books you can find. It encompasses the entire span of time of the nation, from early exploration to the present. The focus is on the history of economics in America, with a dash of political history tossed in where applicable for more understanding. The book is well written and easy to read, which is a lot more than can be said for the vast majority of history books.

    The real problem with the book for me was that there was no major theme proposed to unite this broad look. Topics were covered in chronological order with not much logical connection beyond the preceding few pages. Maybe that's the point of the history of America's economy - it has no unifying theme other than progress.

    At times Mr. Gordon did interject his love of unions and big government, even in the face of historical evidence to their detriment. Thankfully these minor defects did not ruin an otherwise well written book....more info
  • A must-buy for any amateur historian
    Exciting. Filled with stunning statistics meshed with lively interpretations and many surprises. This book is really a survey of American history, but from one perspective: the development of America's capital wealth and influence. What is fascinating is that this string of events that made the USA what is is were largely unrelated. Stuff just happened, although sometimes one need prompted an opportunity or solution. No grand plan drove the events, inventions, improvements, developments. They happened because of the relationship of need, opportunity, and free enterprise.

    This book should be in every historian's library. Do yourself a favor and get it. I thank Gordon for a wonderful book.

    Roger S. Peterson...more info
  • Economic history at its finest
    American Economic history is an amazing story and this is one of the few books that chronicles it well. If you want to understand how the United States is the industrial power it is today than this is the book for you. While I feel it leaves out some of the institution ideas that make our economy strong it gets the technological and political ones right on the head. Gordon writes very well and you feel as though you are ready a story as opposed to history. This is highly recommended for anyone trying to understand our history today. ...more info
  • Pure Economic Ignorance
    I first heard Mr. Gordon on 20/20 talking about the 1987 mini-crash of the stock market, and when he said, "The Fed did the right thing then, it injected huge amounts of liquidity into the market." If people believe creating money out of thin air and giving it to the politically connected helps the economy, they really need to go back to Econ 101. Oh wait, Econ 101 these days says exactly that in almost every government run school in America. For a much more detailed and insightful look at the History of Banking and the true cause of the booms and busts (hint: The Federal Reserve itself), read Murray Rothbard's "A History of Money and Banking in the United States," or his "The Mystery of Banking." There you will find sound logic, as opposed to this trash....more info
  • It's an epic history, stupid
    It is amazing to me that someone could read this book - as the publisher's weekly reviewer and some of these Amazon reviewers have - and conclude this is an "unfair", biased account of American economic history because it completely ignores the disparity of wealth our capitalist system created.


    Then you have missed the point of this book...missed the forest of the trees, as it were.

    This is an epic history of an epic nation. Think about your comments in the epic context of this book. Let me help: Answer these questions about the percentage of Americans in 1780/1880/1980 that could:

    - Travel to family or friends 100s, or even 1000s of miles away for a meal? For an emergency?
    - Communicate with loved ones, not in the same room?
    - Hear music that wasn't being played in the same room?
    - Have an iced beverage in the summer time?
    - Enjoy a warm bath in the winter?
    - See 50/70/90/99% of their children grow to adult-hood?
    - Live to see grandchildren? Great grandchildren?
    - Have the ability to show their grand children/great grandchildren/etc pictures of themselves?
    - Spend less than 80/60/40/20/5% of their waking moments feeding themselves?
    - Have fresh, out of season, produce?
    - Have access to virtually any book ever published in the last 100 years? Content not published?
    - Expect to catch typhoid/tuberculosis/small pox/pneumonia/mumps/measles/polio?
    - Survive childbirth/a heart-attack/diabetes/a broken femur/
    - Survive to 40/60/80/90?
    These are the perspectives of this book. It never occurred to me a significant number of people in 1850 didn't even know what ice was. That is, before ships and insulation improved to the point where New England ice could be exported to Central America and India. That is, until refrigeration took over (one can imagine the local politician bemoaning the loss of jobs in the ice-farming industry). This book is page after page of these obvious-in-hindsight, incredibly entertaining tidbits.

    But, back to you narrow minded reviewers: the above doesn't even address the core economic fallacy inherent in your phony wealth statistics -unlike the socialist systems you no-doubt favor, ours isn't a caste system - the wealthiest 1% and poorest 10% are not the same people year after year. One of the greatest explanatory variables of % wealth disparity in this country is time spent in this country, governed by both age and immigration status. A pre-med college student is poor, yet 20 years later as a surgeon, is rich; a craftsman at 20 who puts away 10% of his income over a 40 year career starts poor, ends "rich"; a Mexican immigrant who arrives with nothing sees his children go to college.

    We are living in the greatest economic environment of opportunity and prosperity in the history of the world and, yet, a significant number of people are finding ways to be miserable, ingrates, and ruin it for the next generation. Read this book and gain some perspective, for your sake and (unfortunately, given our political climate, for my sake and my children's sake as well). ...more info
  • Absolutly Fabulous
    "An Empire of Wealth : The Epic History of American Economic Power" by John Steel Gordon is an absolutely fabulous work of History and Literature. If this fast moving and exciting survey of the greatest nation the world has ever known was placed in the hands of American students it just may revive the study of History in this country. In an age of political correctness and horribly written text books John Steel Gordon proves that history is not boring, only that there are boring teachers and badly written history books. I challenge anyone who has the slightest interest in the history of this nation to read the portions made available by Amazon, and not want to read this book....more info
  • History can be changed --- at least from boring /dull to exciting/dramatic
    If you were put off U.S. History by your High School text book read this book book it could undo the damage. It could create a new history buff.
    The author believes in capitalism and the ability it has to exploit new technology. But he also sees the need for a goverment that will help capitalism to thrive. Franklin Roosvelt is a hero in this book, because he helped save capitalism by reducing the pain from the more exreme side-effects of the workings of the economic system. John Gordon also likes Alexander Hamilton. If Hamilton had prevailed politically over Thomas Jefferson and we had had a strong cental bank back then, who knows we may have not had to suffer the Great Depression? The author further implies that many years later on, if a number of key officials/bankers had not been sick at just the wrong time, or had done just the right thing at the right time (expanded the money supply more or sooner) at key moments in history the Great Depression could have been reduced to a big financial crisis or a recession. But that might not be the correct impression, depending upon what else you read. If you read Ben S. Bernanke's (new Fed. Chairman) "Essays of the Great Depression" you get the impression that something much more fundamental may have been wrong with the U.S./Global economic system (a badly flawed gold standard and sticky-wages) and so even if all the things that Mr. Gordon "indicates" that should have been done had been done, it may have not made a diffrence -- The Great Depression was on the way anyway, not preventable just like Katrina. Today we have the strong central bank that the author wants and Hamilton wanted. So now, are we safer from economic disaster? Not if you listen to some "experts". They say the the Central Bank has more controls and tools to work with, but the leader of the Fed. could be flawed in his judgement as to the important role Gold (now priced at about $570),of all things, still has in the economy.
    This book may not solve anything for you but it can make you really think about many diffrent aspects of our economic history, and now health books tell you thinking is good for you.

    k...more info
  • Well written, but shallow and biased
    Gordon is a fine writer and An Empire of Wealth is a not too demanding read. But it is also not too demanding in another way. Although interesting in parts and sweeping in scope, the book is basically a 419 page (I have the paperback) puff piece. Most red-blooded Americans will find Gordon's boosterism infectious (I did), but what is significant about the book is what it doesn't say and what Gordon chooses to leave out of history.

    Acoording to Gordon, all of the U.S.'s wealth was (1) essentially built by great men, (2) come by honestly (or through charmingly ingenious roguery), (3) a matter of simple addition, with little downside. Anyone even slightly familiar with the history of the industrial revolution, the westward expansion, the struggles of trade unions, Government corruption and favoritism, or monopoly practice will need to check their intellects at the door. This is history as big business cheerleading. ...more info
  • Making economic history interesting
    This book sat on my shelf for a couple years. It looked thick and everytime I read the back cover I put it back down. An economic history of the US? Ugh. Well, I finally read it and I'm sorry I waited. This is a very entertaining and informative book. After every chapter I would share with my wife some new piece of information I had learned or share some story he had written about some of the characters that present themselves. Honey did you know...? This turned out to in fact be a quick and highly enjoyable read. I highly recommend this book to everyone who thinks they might want to have a better understanding of how the US economy developed from founding to present day - and doesn't have a degree in economics or math. I find myself referencing this book constantly as I discuss the current economic situation of our country with friends and family. Given the current situation with the automakers in Detroit his chapter on the development of GM and Ford and the auto industry should be required reading. Read about Wall Street shenanigans in the 19th century and you won't be nearly as shocked at the current situation. And all this with not one eye-glazing chart, graph or formula. Well done....more info
  • Wonderful, Well written, fast paced and informative
    This has got to be one of the best history books that I have read. The book chronicles the start of the United States and the inovations and trials that made the nation great. I particularly enjoyed how it intertwined the innovations with information on the thoughts of politicians, businesmen, and others of the era, and how events such as slavery impacted the economics of the time.

    This was a very well written book. I initially picked it up from the library, and then purchased a copy to add to my library....more info
  • You will not find a more readable or entertaining book on U.S. Economic History
    An Empire of Wealth - The Epic History of American Economic Power, by John Steele Gordon, is a marvelous one volume narrative on the economic history of the United States. While Gordon's work is clearly not ground breaking in terms of research, he synthesizes four hundred years of progress into a very readable and even entertaining book. Writing anything on this topic in such a fashion is clearly a challenge and one the author certainly aces.

    Gordon writes about the root causes and pivotal events, inventions and American ingenuity that propelled the economy upward. He also handles the precipitants of economic downturns and depressions very concisely. His ability to put into context many statistics is something that more academic writers could learn from. The book is loaded with "gems". Include are: "Considered as a `public work,' the GI Bill proved to be the Erie Canal of the new, postindustrial economy that was then, quite unrecognized, coming into being". On capitalism and industry (with specific regard to Standard Oil), "Monopolies, like everyone else, want to maximize their profits, not their prices. Lower prices, which increase demand, and increased efficiency, which cuts costs, is usually the best way to achieve the highest possible profits". Gordon also handles the political aspects of all periods very well with valid criticisms of Jefferson and Jackson and insightful writing on Hoover, Roosevelt and Reagan. While he is obviously a free market thinker it does not cloud his reasoning about the need for a central bank, missing after Jackson disbanded the Bank of the United States. He also notes Keynes "General Theory" and the role for government spending in a depressed economy.

    The reader is given a bibliography of some great books about American history that, while largely not academic in nature, are intellectually stimulating and allow for further reading on a topic that perhaps was covered in this book in less detail than might have been desired. This is a very well written and fascinating read. If a reader has any interest at all in this topic, it is very much a must read. ...more info
  • A great insight on almost every page
    What a great effort by John Steele Gordon. Empire of Wealth covers the history of the economy of the United States from Jamestown through today and does so in an insight-filled, page-turning manner. Even as a fairly avid reader of economics and history, I found myself learning something about why our country is the way it is on almost every page in this book.

    A great story of people, culture, technology, money, and a country - this book truly deserves its high rating....more info
  • Read Y. Sageev's review
    I had intended to write an extended review of Gordon's very engaging book, but then noticed the number of other reviews already done and decided not to reinvent the wheel. The reviewer immediately before me, Mr. Sageev, has done an excellent job of describing the book and enumerating its many virtues. Read his review...then read the book. I will underline one point: this is NOT a dry economics text as you might fear; it is hugely entertaining and illuminates many aspects of American history. And "entertaining" need not mean "sophomoric." The book is economic history made popular, but it is solidly grounded. In that regard it reminds one of Robert Heilbroner's books half a generation ago. ...more info
  • Economic and Technological History of the USA
    SOUNDS BORING, BUT NOT THIS BOOK. "An Empire of Wealth" answers the question how did the USA become such a powerhouse of wealth and opportunity. It skips over the political and military history and fills in the overlooked story of finance and inventions. The book is interesting because it gives the human and often humorous side of the story. It covers common things found in your home such as indoor plumbing, credit cards, and home computers. "An Empire of Wealth" explains the inter-relationship and progression of technology from gas lights to electric lights.

    The best part of the book are the never ending bits of information that will make you say, "I didn't know that". Where did George Washington bank? Why was the Model-T car only painted black? How did Bill Gates get rich? The only criticism of the book is that it covers a lot of ground going from 1492 to 2004 in 460 pages. The section on the Great Depression was weak as was the economic events of the 1990's. Overall, John Steele Gordon's book is well worth your time and money. ...more info
  • Not the typical Wall Street conspiracy theory book, a good meat & potatoes look at the greatest economic power ever!
    Hindsight is 20/20 and the human element of our memories, whether personal or historical significance is involved has a way of filtering out the negative and magnifying the positive. The same could be said of "Empire of Wealth" by John Gordon Steele. The book is very entertaining and insightful even though at times it seems to forget the human element of suffering caused by times of economic down-turn. That being said, if you would like to learn how luck, self intrest, good leadership, bad leadership, yankee ingenuity, exploitation of foriegn and domestic native peoples, and war made America what she is today, read this book! If you are an American it will make you more aware of how fortunate you are and what potential you really have to maximize your legacy, what ever it is. If you are not an american, sorry about you're luck. ...more info
  • Engrossing and thorough
    This is a marvelous history book which I enjoyed a lot. Besides,it is beautifully written and never dull. By reading this book, I was able to fathom America's economic might. Amid praise, I have to say that I object certain comments made throughout the book by Mr. Gordon because, more than fact, they seem to convey his bias as a deeply conservative thinker. Nevertheless, the story that evolves through the pages of this book is truly an epic. This book manages to be informative and entertaining at the same time. The book itself is easy to read (close to double space between lines) and has a handsome cover. I am looking forward to read other books authored by Mr. Gordon. ...more info
  • Coffee table historian
    I agree that Gordon is what we call a "coffee table" historian, whose work is much wider than it is deep, and heavily shaded by his blatant pro-free market leanings. Compared with other historians of the Great Depression like Galbraith, for example, the writing is turgid and leaden.

    A good illustration of Gordon's neoliberal bias is his blithe conclusion on NPR the other day that the notion that suicides increased in the aftermath of the 1929 financial crash was nothing but a "myth." A similar claim is recited in this book. But in this case Gordon simply doesn't know what he's talking about. First, suicides are notoriously underreported, especially by middle-class families for whom they remain something of a scandal. Second, according to the CDC, the official US suicide rate did indeed increase dramatically in the wake of the 1929 crash. The median rate for 1920-29 was 12.2 per 100,000. It was 13.5 in 1928, 13.9 in 1929,15.6 in 1930, 16.8 in 1931, and 17.4 in 1932. Obviously it took some time for the negative wealth effects of the 10/29/1929 crash to register. The fact that, as Gordon claims, there were few extra suicides reported in the "last quarter of 1929 in New York City" is irrelevant -- most wealthy speculators lived elsewhere and the effects took time. Third, A simple check of the New York Times and Time Magazine archives for that period will confirm that there were indeed many individual cases of reported suicides by prominent investors. Fourth, the aggregate suicide rate then retreated gradually, to 14.3 in 1936, before jumping to 15 in 1937 and 15.3 in 1938 -- consistent with the lagged effects of 1937's steep slide. Similar increases in US suicide rates can also be found for the steep 1907-08 recession, for later US recessions, and for other countries. It's not surprising the 1987 stock crash didn't produce many deaths; it was over quickly, and didn't produce a recession. Would be scholar Gordon needs to do his homework....more info
  • Very pleasantly surprised...
    I purchased "Empire of Wealth" to address the glaring deficit in my knowledge of American history from an economic perspective. At the same time, I was dreading that this history would be boring and dry.

    It is anything but. Gordon's effort is downright gripping, a compelling read chock full of information. Gordon has a knack for finding the most intriguing aspects of history and explaining difficult concepts in a manner that is quickly grasped. He is able to get to the heart of a concept without dragging along pedantic baggage. His writing is flawless and the raw historical material is seamlessly synthesized with consummate professionalism.

    Gordon wraps his discussion of larger economic themes around the impact that invention, infrastructural development, and politics had on the burgeoning American economy. Examples include the Erie Canal, road and railroad building, the cotton gin, or the bessemer furnace.

    From an "ideological" perspective, Gordon falls into the typical free-market, pro-deficit camp, which is consistent with the vast majority of economists today. However, he is far from dogmatic or simplistic, as some reviewers maintain. He acknowledges that unregulated capitalism is "red in tooth and claw" but that labor unions have overstepped their bounds, for example. Gordon devotes much time to the monopolies, oligopolies and collusion of post- Civil War America. At the same time, he fairly points out that not all political attempts to defang raw capitalism were the panaceas so keenly hoped-for.

    A nice feature of Gordon's approach is his recognition of less-appreciated historical actors. For example, he gives the much-derided Hoover some credit for helping make possible the New Deal, insofar in that he tried every means possible short of big-government alphabet-soup to stem the growing depression. FDR would not have been able to introduce his heavy-handed methods, Gordon contends, without voter experience with Hoover's more gradualist and ultimately ineffective policies.

    The author narrates far too much in "Empire of Wealth" to describe here in detail, but particularly stellar is Gordon's discussion of money supply, deficits, trade balances, the role of a national bank, Northern vs. Southern economies, income tax, the history and role of Wall Street and the pernicious boom-and-bust cycle engendered by Jeffersonian opposition to Hamilton's central bank.

    "Empire of Wealth" surpassed all of my expectations. Gordon's effort is a surprisingly enjoyable and very necessary history that will not disappoint....more info
  • Empire of Wealth
    Gordon's explication of the genesis of the US banking system is exceptionally interesting and highly readable for most people with modest financial backgrounds. He helps provide some facts that enable one to understand what is occuring in todays financial economy. I recommend this book for general reading to all those who doubt our ability to manage our financial affairs; clearly, we have been in many "ditches" before....more info
  • Informative and enjoyable biography of the American Economy
    Forests have been cleared for all the books that have been written on American History. While a few stand out from the pack, it is harder to find one that is fresh, interesting, and informative. "An Empire of Wealth" is all of those things and I strongly recommend it to you. Instead of being a military, political, or diplomatic history, John Steel Gordon has written an economic biography of our country. Do not mistake this approach for a dry treatise on economics. Far from it, this book is full of struggle, wild success, bitter failure, dislocation from wrenching changes in the economy due to the rise of new technologies, and marshalling resources for war.

    He begins with the resource rich, but hostile wilderness that the early explorers found. The British made the first permanent settlement at Jamestown in what is now Virginia. The settlers had come for gold, found mica that they mistook for gold ore, and only 38 of the 105 survived the first winter. They kept coming from England and they kept struggling until they began to grow and export tobacco. Mr. Gordon then takes us on a fast paced, and amazing journey through the nation's founding, the movement west, our major wars, depressions, and the rise (and fall) of technologies such as steam, the railroads, machine supported agriculture, banking, and international trade. He ends the book with the horrible events we experienced on September 11, 2001.

    Not only is this a fun read for anyone interested in American History, it would be a fine addition to the history readings for high school or college students. I especially like the author's honesty about the good and the bad in our history without making us the bad guys or the source of all pain and suffering on the planet. The reader comes away with a richer understanding of our history and feels good about our place in the world.

    The book has a particularly nice bibliography in addition to the chapter notes. The readings offered in the bibliography would enrich anyone and I also urge you to look at them and read as many as you can. There is also an index to help you find certain topics. (I am a big fan of indexes and cannot understand any modern book without one - given how easily computers can create them and allow the editor to work them into something useful. Yet, we still get books without indexes because people think they will be more popular. What I want is useful!)
    ...more info