Alan Beattie writes for the Financial Times. Here, he departs from financial reporting to write something geared to a more general audience. People who have an interest in economics, and history, but who are not economists or historians.
False Economy was just right for me. Not too technical, but not too general. Economic history has always interested me. With economics, no one has a crystal ball to peer into the future. The past is our only clue. For economists, studying the past is important. Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, knows as much about the Great Depression as any historian.
But economic history books can be some of the toughest to get through. Dense information must be presented. Careful analysis must be made. Comparing and contrasting different economic theories must be done in detail. Most of the time, that detail is excruciating.
Robert Samuelson's book The Great Inflation shows that. I like to read Samuelson's columns in Newsweek and the Washington Post, and I enjoyed reading his book. But it was a chore to get through. (To be quite honest, there were some parts I skipped.) Same with Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, a fine but occasionally tedious history of the four men who led the central banks in the US, France, England and Germany during the Great Depression.
For me, tedium was not a problem with False Economy. The book reads well, with interesting examples carefully analyzed. Each chapter takes a topic and runs with it. One example, comparing the economic histories of the United States with Argentina, appears several times in the book. The rest divides into discrete chapters.
Those without much interest in this kind of book, though, may find even False Economy a bit of a chore. As one might expect, Alan Beattie does not quite make economic history read like a good spy novel.
But he's pretty close. Certainly economic history buffs should, I think, find False Economy to be a refreshing change from our usual fare. Alan Beattie tries to teach by using surprising questions, like why doesn't Africa grow the cocaine that travels through it to Europe (it's grown in South America in countries that have the infrastructure to support it).
Unlike many books of this type, Alan Beattie does not take any particular political posture. He does not advocate for anything. His opinions come through in the book, certainly. But nothing you have to agree or disagree with. The countries and times tell their story, and you can interpret it how you wish.
My only caveat is to those who are looking for something scholarly, a book that provides the detail a student or teacher might want from an economic history. This book does not have that. It's more milk than meat. For some, that may be a reason to pass on it.