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The Great Crash of 1929 [Paperback]

John Kenneth Galbraith
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2 1997
Of Galbraith's classic examination of the 1929 financial collapse, the Atlantic Monthly said:"Economic writings are seldom notable for their entertainment value, but this book is. Galbraith's prose has grace and wit, and he distills a good deal of sardonic fun from the whopping errors of the nation's oracles and the wondrous antics of the financial community." Now, with the stock market riding historic highs, the celebrated economist returns with new insights on the legacy of our past and the consequences of blind optimism and power plays within the financial community.

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Rampant speculation. Record trading volumes. Assets bought not because of their value but because the buyer believes he can sell them for more in a day or two, or an hour or two. Welcome to the late 1920s. There are obvious and absolute parallels to the great bull market of the late 1990s, writes Galbraith in a new introduction dated 1997. Of course, Galbraith notes, every financial bubble since 1929 has been compared to the Great Crash, which is why this book has never been out of print since it became a bestseller in 1955.

Galbraith writes with great wit and erudition about the perilous actions of investors, and the curious inaction of the government. He notes that the problem wasn't a scarcity of securities to buy and sell; "the ingenuity and zeal with which companies were devised in which securities might be sold was as remarkable as anything." Those words become strikingly relevant in light of revenue-negative start-up companies coming into the market each week in the 1990s, along with fragmented pieces of established companies, like real estate and bottling plants. Of course, the 1920s were different from the 1990s. There was no safety net below citizens, no unemployment insurance or Social Security. And today we don't have the creepy investment trusts--in which shares of companies that held some stocks and bonds were sold for several times the assets' market value. But, boy, are the similarities spooky, particularly the prevailing trend at the time toward corporate mergers and industry consolidations--not to mention all the partially informed people who imagined themselves to be financial geniuses because the shares of stock they bought kept going up. --Lou Schuler

About the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith who was born in 1908, is the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University and a past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the distinguished author of thirty-one books spanning three decades, including The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Oxford, the University of Paris, and Moscow University, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Order of Canada and received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2000, at a White House ceremony, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very relevant today Feb. 10 2002
By Ben R.
Recall the talk before the bust of the "New Economy," in which distended P/E ratios and lack of profits were to be irrelevant. Recall Enron's public proclamations of its stability and projected earnings increases. Keep these in mind as you read The Great Crash, and you will never again listen to an analyst, much less an executive.
Galbraith's theme is that market stability and corporate interests are fundamentally at odds. CEOs will never speak evil about their own companies or the condition of the market, so their speech is about as useful to an investor as a pre-game pep talk is to a bettor. Analysts, as well as executives, are salesmen of their own stock, and their primary objective is to get you to buy high.
So why did the 1929 -- or the 2000 -- crash occur? Buying high is great as long as someone is always buying higher; however, such an aggrandized pyramid scheme is doomed to failure. It's as simple as that. So why, then, read Galbraith's book? He is a talented storyteller, and he highlights themes that are likely to accompany future bubbles so that the reader knows what to be skeptical about. This is a very entertaining read, and if you actively compare what Galbraith tells you of the 20's to what you know about the 90's, you'll likely not be swept away by future investing mania.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the 1929 crash in elegant prose Oct. 29 2003
Economics, like physics, has a fundamental canon: you cannot make money out of nothing. To narrate the history of financial bubbles is to chronicle those times when people overlooked that fact. In those instances, asset prices soar merely to be resold for profit, with little regard as to their actual value; when something shakes confidence and buyers are in short supply, a crash follows as prices were sustainable only insofar as they could be resold higher.

According to John Galbraith, the stock-market crash that took place in the fall of 1929 was typical of this prototype. Mr. Galbraith, a Harvard economist, traced the optimism to the Florida real-estate bubble of 1925 which made people forget the elementary rules of money making. What follows is an elegant narrative that interweaves economics with history to produce one of the most telling and lucid accounts of the developments, economic and otherwise, that lead up to the October 1929 crash.

The crash, according to Mr. Galbraith, was caused by an admixture of bad income distribution (economy too dependent on luxury spending and investment), bad corporate structure, bad banking structure, foreign imbalances, and bad economic intelligence. In seeking compelling explanations, the "Great Crash" often resists conventional wisdom: for example, to those who blame the abundance of credit, Mr. Galbraith answers: "on numerous occasions before and since credit has been easy, and there has been no speculation whatever." Mr. Galbraith looks beyond central banking and interest rates to compile a rich and diverse history of the 1929 crash.

So what about preventing future crises? Here, Mr. Galbraith is ambivalent. Regulation has and can play a substantial role in preventing future troubles.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Effective. Inventive. Jan. 5 2003
Galbraith's inventive work on the fascinating events leading up and preceding the 1929 stock market crash is must-read for anyone interested in the national economy, how it functions, how it fails, and what role the federal government plays in perpetuating or stifling the situation.
He very convincingly establishes a good groundwork for the reader, explaining why the stock market was in such a large expansion and how federal regulation (or lack therof) enabled the financial firms to operate in very risky and perhaps unethical ways.
Obviously, the book chronicles the disastrous declines in 1929 and further discusses the federal government's attempts to revive the American economy, those for the most part failed.
The most important lesson this book can allay to the reader is that economies are not self-sustaining structures that are only subject to supply and demand shifts. In instances like the 1929 crash, the prognosis for dynamic economies can often lie in the actions of a handful of actors/people. A good lesson to remember.
Indeed there are many lessons to be learned from this book, many that are relevant to today's economy (2003). Read this book with care and with a comparative mindset!
A must read for economists and public policy makers!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book does a poor job of explaining what caused the depression. It gives a sarcastic narrative of some of the bad practices leading up until 1929, and the sarcasm is amusing. After the sarcasm, in about february of 1930, it stops and draws unjustified and unsupported conclusions. The narrative comes mainly from reading the New York newspapers. A description of what happened in rural areas and at small banks is not included. You will not understand what a run on a bank is, and how small banks were leveraged and destroyed by the depression. You will hear nothing about the propensity of the federal reserve to keep interest rates too high from 1929 - 1933, and will not know how much they should have been lowered, or if lowering them would have been ineffective. You will not learn how to draw your own economic conclusions by reading this book. Because the book is 100% text, a large opportunity is missed to explain some of the economic history through pictures.
I think the book is popular because it was written by a Harvard Professor. I have read several books on the depression and this one, because of the hype, was the greatest disappointment.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars mediocre for Galbraith
This short book contains some of JKG's characteristic wit and insight, but much of it is made of the sort of list-of-big-business numbers trivia one would expect to find in Forbes... Read more
Published 15 months ago by ogilive
5.0 out of 5 stars A warning
Galbraith wrote this book as a warning. People have to understand who a bubble can be created. And bubbles are pretty in every country and in every moment of the capitalism. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2011 by O. Grigoras
3.0 out of 5 stars Informing, but slow
The book The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith was very informative, full of facts and other things which made me understand what the great crash was all about. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to understand
I had to read this book for a history class in college. Being someone who knows absolutely nothing about the stock market, I found this book very hard to understand and follow. Read more
Published on March 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars What Actually Happened in 1929?
Having just lived through the crash of the dot-com stocks, I thought it was a particularly appropriate moment to reread John Kenneth Galbraith's famous history of the stock market... Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2001 by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars An obligation for today
This book contains a great explanation abouth the 1929 crash. But, under my point of view, the most important aspect is that most of the features described in the book can be seen... Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2001 by Jimmy Izu
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very interesting book
Want to know how the unthinkable could happen? Fear not this book exposes the overoptimistic attitude of the average american investor circa 1929, with amazing parallels to the... Read more
Published on May 27 2001 by Mr. J. Holroyd
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read !
This book a must for those interested in the "...this time is different..." phenomenon. It is very well written and not too technical. Enjoy.
Published on April 8 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Old Read
I read this book as a class assignment in 1975. I still remember its lessons and occasionally refer to it. Read more
Published on March 22 2001 by HRTMLLC
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