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A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era through the 2008 crash--and argues that we've come to yet another turning point. Inspired by the market crash and great recession of 2008, Jonathan Levy began teaching a course to help his students understand everything that had happened in the economy to get to that point. Workin A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era through the 2008 crash--and argues that we've come to yet another turning point. Inspired by the market crash and great recession of 2008, Jonathan Levy began teaching a course to help his students understand everything that had happened in the economy to get to that point. Working from the beginning of U.S. history to the present, he found that capitalism in America has evolved through four distinct ages, separated by dramatic cataclysms that each forced a major turn in how the economy operated. In an ambitious, single-volume history of the United States, he reveals how the country's economic evolution is inseparable from the nature of American life. The Age of Commerce spans the colonial era, the founding of the United States, and up to the outbreak of t he Civil War, a period of history where economic growth and output was the result of the spread of trade, but also largely dependent on enslaved labor and severely limited by what could be drawn from the land beyond subsistence farming. The Age of Capital traces the impact of the first major leap in economic development following the Civil War: the Industrial Revolution, when capitalists set physical capital down in factories to produce commercial goods, fueled by labor moving into cities. But, investments in the new industrial economy led to great volatility, most dramatically with the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929. The Great Depression immediately sparked the Age of Control, when the government took on a more active role in the economy, first trying to jumpstart it and then funding military production in World War II. Skepticism of government intervention in the Cold War combined with recession and stagflation during the 1970s led to a crisis of industrial capitalism, and the withdrawal of political will for regulation. In the Age of Chaos that followed, the combination of deregulation and the growth of the finance industry created a booming economy for some but also striking inequalities and a lack of oversight that led directly to the crash of 2008. Today, in the aftermath of the Age of Chaos and in the midst of severe political discord, the nature of capitalism in United States once again is at a crossroads. In Ages of American Capitalism, Jonathan Levy proves that, contrary to political dogma, capitalism in the United States has never been just one thing. Instead, it has morphed through the country's history--and it's likely changing again right now.


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A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era through the 2008 crash--and argues that we've come to yet another turning point. Inspired by the market crash and great recession of 2008, Jonathan Levy began teaching a course to help his students understand everything that had happened in the economy to get to that point. Workin A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era through the 2008 crash--and argues that we've come to yet another turning point. Inspired by the market crash and great recession of 2008, Jonathan Levy began teaching a course to help his students understand everything that had happened in the economy to get to that point. Working from the beginning of U.S. history to the present, he found that capitalism in America has evolved through four distinct ages, separated by dramatic cataclysms that each forced a major turn in how the economy operated. In an ambitious, single-volume history of the United States, he reveals how the country's economic evolution is inseparable from the nature of American life. The Age of Commerce spans the colonial era, the founding of the United States, and up to the outbreak of t he Civil War, a period of history where economic growth and output was the result of the spread of trade, but also largely dependent on enslaved labor and severely limited by what could be drawn from the land beyond subsistence farming. The Age of Capital traces the impact of the first major leap in economic development following the Civil War: the Industrial Revolution, when capitalists set physical capital down in factories to produce commercial goods, fueled by labor moving into cities. But, investments in the new industrial economy led to great volatility, most dramatically with the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929. The Great Depression immediately sparked the Age of Control, when the government took on a more active role in the economy, first trying to jumpstart it and then funding military production in World War II. Skepticism of government intervention in the Cold War combined with recession and stagflation during the 1970s led to a crisis of industrial capitalism, and the withdrawal of political will for regulation. In the Age of Chaos that followed, the combination of deregulation and the growth of the finance industry created a booming economy for some but also striking inequalities and a lack of oversight that led directly to the crash of 2008. Today, in the aftermath of the Age of Chaos and in the midst of severe political discord, the nature of capitalism in United States once again is at a crossroads. In Ages of American Capitalism, Jonathan Levy proves that, contrary to political dogma, capitalism in the United States has never been just one thing. Instead, it has morphed through the country's history--and it's likely changing again right now.

30 review for Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dax

    This is an impressive achievement by Levy. The pure scope of the work, and I am not talking about the page count, would be enough to deter most economists. We're covering the entire economic history of the United States here. This is not the first time such a book has been published, but it is the most up to date and therefore covers more ground than any American economics book before it. Levy has divided this history into four parts and given each respective age a descriptive title. The points This is an impressive achievement by Levy. The pure scope of the work, and I am not talking about the page count, would be enough to deter most economists. We're covering the entire economic history of the United States here. This is not the first time such a book has been published, but it is the most up to date and therefore covers more ground than any American economics book before it. Levy has divided this history into four parts and given each respective age a descriptive title. The points at which he demarcated each era are interesting in their own right; American colonization, Civil War, the World Wars, and the Reagan administration. It's kind of wild how drastically our economy changed in the 1980's and it's not surprising that those changes have lead to the disputes that we are seeing today regarding monetary and fiscal policies. Alas, this is one of those instances where the size of the task smothers the details. It is inevitable that large portions of this book are dry; we're just covering too much ground to avoid it. The Gilded Age section was surprisingly on the dull side. Maybe that is a result of having read several books on the category already. The most interesting part is the final section that covers the Reagan administration onwards, which Levy has dubbed The Age of Chaos. I am guilty of recency bias here but the events that have lead us to where we are today are obviously going to be the most pertinent for us. This is a work Levy should be proud of, however, and it is a worthwhile read. This is probably a book I will refer back to when discussing economics and fiscal policies in the future. A strong three stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: An economic history of the United States, dividing the history into ages of commerce, capital, control, and chaos. I received an early e-galley of this book and by the time I worked through this massive tome, I thought it would be in print. Perhaps because of publishing delays, it won’t be out until April 20 of next year. If you want to read a history of the United States from an economic perspective, pre-order this book now. Jonathan Levy covers the period from 1660 up until the present. Summary: An economic history of the United States, dividing the history into ages of commerce, capital, control, and chaos. I received an early e-galley of this book and by the time I worked through this massive tome, I thought it would be in print. Perhaps because of publishing delays, it won’t be out until April 20 of next year. If you want to read a history of the United States from an economic perspective, pre-order this book now. Jonathan Levy covers the period from 1660 up until the present. He divides this history up into four ages. If you cannot remember all the economic developments, charts, booms and recessions, you need to remember just four words: commerce, capital, control, chaos. The Age of Commerce spans the period of 1660 to 1860. The focus of this period, from the early colonies to the election of Lincoln focuses on trade, often the surplus of household economies exchanged for other needed commodities. One particular feature of American commerce was the “portable capital” of slavery, creating booms of sugar, tobacco, and cotton. One of the critical questions of this period was whether Hamilton’s centralized banking-fueled economy or Jefferson’s agrarian Empire of Liberty would prevail. Northern and Southern versions of commerce, the beginnings of an industrial society in the northeast and old northwest, and the slave economy of the south, laid the groundwork for the divisions leading up to the Civil War. The Age of Capital spans the period from 1860 to 1932. The Civil War spelled the end of slave capital and led to a new period of industrial capital, first in the explosive growth of railroads, and then the illiquid capital of industrial production. All of this was made possible by the use of fossil fuels. One of the most fascinating chapters in this section, that illustrates the fusion of all these factors, is that on “Fordism.” The age was marked by cycles of boom and bust. A return to the gold standard in the 1920’s resulted first in a great boom, and then the greatest bust, the beginning of the Great Depression. The inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt also opened The Age of Control. Levy delimits this as the years of 1932 until 1980, ending with the economic shocks of the late 1970’s. Levy uses the language of “control” because that was the focus of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. The critical thing was to deploy capital, employing breadwinners through infrastructure development programs, and providing income security through Social Security. Ultimately the war economy ended the depression as government funds were invested in war production. This was followed by the consumerism of the 1950’s, a fascinating chapter on the development of the post-war economy into which I was born. That began to unravel in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, particularly as OPEC controlled the price of oil at high levels, triggering the painful combination of high inflation and high unemployment we came to know as “stagflation.” From 1980 to the present is Jonathan Levy’s The Age of Chaos. Things started with the “Volcker Shock,” a policy of high interest rates to bring down inflation (we bought our first house with the help of a determined realtor in this crazy period). Many of the promises of Reagan never materialized but the value of the dollar soared. Income growth shifted from labor to owners of property, whether real estate or stocks, an economy built less on production than speculation and an increasing disparity between laborers and those in the service economy, and investors. Home ownership was encouraged, with the granting of increasingly risky mortgages, bundled into investment instruments guaranteed by the big investment houses. In 2008 it all came crashing down, only to be put back together in the Obama administration with assets continuing to grow in value until the pandemic. We are left wondering what will come next. While assets seem to grow, many see little growth in income. We face what may be an existential necessity to transition from the fossil-fueled economy. Levy believes we are at a place of reckoning. Will we keep repeating history, especially the recent history of Chaos? He proposes that this history is important to know as we determine our economic course in the future. I also think it critical in making sense of our past and how we’ve gotten to this place. Understanding the role of economics in historical events like the tensions leading to the civil war raises a question about the contemporary fault lines in our society. How do we make sense of our urban, suburban, and rural economies? Is this at all connected to our islands of blue in seas of red in so many parts of the country? I’m not persuaded that economics are the only factor but I also wonder if we cannot understand our history and contemporary social fabric without it. I’ve not seen anyone do quite what this book does, and the author has a good case for the importance of what he has done. ________________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Westlake

    This is a book that is for a select audience. As a history teacher, I tend to read voraciously about America's past, and have always had my eyes out for an economic history that doesn't get boggled down in theory. I was hoping that Levy's book would be the one I was looking for but was mistaken. His book is great if you are looking for a narrative history about markets and economic systems (beginning with mercantilism and the rise of capitalism after the European discovery of the western hemisph This is a book that is for a select audience. As a history teacher, I tend to read voraciously about America's past, and have always had my eyes out for an economic history that doesn't get boggled down in theory. I was hoping that Levy's book would be the one I was looking for but was mistaken. His book is great if you are looking for a narrative history about markets and economic systems (beginning with mercantilism and the rise of capitalism after the European discovery of the western hemisphere). He does a fine job defining his subject and goes to great length to explain his rationale for writing it in the first few pages, but I quickly learned that it was not about how capitalism affected the lives of Americans, rather, the system itself is the main character of the story. This is not to be taken as a negative review; I am just trying to be clear what this book is. Economic history is not my strong suit, and my weak background made some of what I was reading inaccessible. I think Levy's writing is well-constructed; he keeps complicated ideas in basic sentence structure, which provides a manageable means of digesting information. If you are looking for a book that will trace how the fundamental workings of capitalism have changed throughout American history, you should start with this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brier Stucky

    A masterful tour through the history of American capitalism, economic policy, and culture as it relates to the economy. One of the first things I noticed, in contrast to what some other reviewers have written is the scope of the book. The main focus of the book is indeed the transformation of American capitalism through four distinct periods, but along the way, Levy weaves in political history, biographies, and cultural history in a way that is seamless and shows the integration between all of t A masterful tour through the history of American capitalism, economic policy, and culture as it relates to the economy. One of the first things I noticed, in contrast to what some other reviewers have written is the scope of the book. The main focus of the book is indeed the transformation of American capitalism through four distinct periods, but along the way, Levy weaves in political history, biographies, and cultural history in a way that is seamless and shows the integration between all of these spheres. For example, to better understand economic inequality in the Gilded Age, Levy includes an entire chapter on populism as a social and political movement, discussing it's purpose and origins. Later in the book, Levy details the rise of Houston as the prototypical post-industrial city as a way to explain the changes wrought by the "new capitalism", a term Levy uses to refer to post-1980s American capitalism. While all of the other aspects of the book flesh out the story and emphasize the significance of economic shifts, the story of the transformation of American capitalism is the star of the book, and Levy's command of this history is quite remarkable. In the introduction, Levy provides the reader with a map by which one can better understand this history, centering on a unusual definition of capital and the Keynesian concept of "liquidity preference". First, Levy explains capital not as a physical asset or factor of production , but rather as a process. For Levy, capital is about how theses assets are utilized, not the assets in themselves. Using this definition, Levy can more readily explain rapid economic downturns and shifts away from certain industries into others. Even more interesting and helpful to me was the concept of liquidity preference, which holds that people, when they become anxious about the future of pecuniary gain, will divest and seek to hoard money in liquid assets. This concept stands in contrast with the typical economic assumption that people are rational and will continue to invest as it is in their best long-term interests. In chapter after chapter, in event after event, Levy details just how irrational economic actors can be and how many of the America's economic crises can be explained by a rapid shift away from investment and toward liquidity. There is so much more that one could say about this book. I think that anyone even slightly interested in the history of American capitalism can find something of interest here. In only a few sections did I find myself a bit confused as to the economic process that Levy was describing, but all in all, the book is very accessible no matter one's level of economic knowledge. If you are interested in understanding how we got to where we are today, as a country, as an economic system, and as a consumerist culture, I would highly recommend checking this one out.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Brenner Graham, PhD

    opens with claim that all American capitalism stems from the project of empire. specifically a seventeenth-century British empire crafted by “imperial statesmen, pious Christians, aristocratic lords, and gentlemen capitalists.” Levy writes: “English colonizers, with their prayer books, farm animals, and sea-worn nerves, brought the habit of capitalist commerce to North America in the seventeenth century.” for readers interested in Alexander Hamilton and/or the musical, chapter three situates Ham opens with claim that all American capitalism stems from the project of empire. specifically a seventeenth-century British empire crafted by “imperial statesmen, pious Christians, aristocratic lords, and gentlemen capitalists.” Levy writes: “English colonizers, with their prayer books, farm animals, and sea-worn nerves, brought the habit of capitalist commerce to North America in the seventeenth century.” for readers interested in Alexander Hamilton and/or the musical, chapter three situates Hamilton’s financial system in this narrative. chapter five reminds me of Levy’s first book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, which offers a history of the idea of risk, because Ages of American Capitalism’s chapter five, “Confidence Men” reintroduces a human element to high political-economic theory by unpacking the “moral sense” that men like Henry David Thoreau and P. T. Barnum sought within American capitalism. this 945-page monster traces capitalism in the United States, capitalism’s relationships with policy and morality, and how all of the above stems from an imperial drive

  6. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Outstanding!!!!!!!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    TL;DR Ages of American Capitalism takes readers on a tour of U.S. economic history. From the colonial period to Reconstruction to World War II to the stagflation of the 70s, Jonathan Levy analyzes all of these eras through the lens of a changing capitalism. Highly recommended to history and economics buffs. Disclaimer: The publisher provided an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are mine and mine alone. For this and more reviews, please, visit my blog. TL;DR Ages of American Capitalism takes readers on a tour of U.S. economic history. From the colonial period to Reconstruction to World War II to the stagflation of the 70s, Jonathan Levy analyzes all of these eras through the lens of a changing capitalism. Highly recommended to history and economics buffs. Disclaimer: The publisher provided an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are mine and mine alone. For this and more reviews, please, visit my blog. Review: Ages of American Capitalism by Jonathan Levy One of my idiosyncracies is that I’m interested in reading about everything. I love learning about history, and I love learning about economics. For a while, I considered going back to school to get a Ph.D. in either or both subjects. (In addition to the literature, French, and philosophy Ph.D.’s that I’d like.) But life moved on, and I didn’t make the career switch. Still history and economic books have a particular ability to lure me into waters that are over my head. I have Piketty’s Capital sitting on my shelf, started, set aside, restarted, re-set aside. The reason that I love these books is because I’m looking for how the world got to the point it’s at. For example, how did conservatives come to worship at the altar of capitalism? I believe that the study of history can tell us a lot about today. If you agree, then let me recommend Jonathan Levy’s Ages of American Capitalism. This book covers the economic history of the U.S. from the colonial era right up to the Great Recession of 2008. This book challenged my previous studies while remaining accessible to be read for fun. Levy’s balanced analysis looks at how capitalism evolved with the changing American times. Ages of American Capitalism covers a lot of ground; Levy starts with colonial policies and ends with the Great Recession of 2008. In the afterword, he tells us a little of his thoughts on the nation of the 2020s. Starting in the Age of Commerce, Levy shows us how English polices shaped the colonies and their world. While he is objective, he doesn’t gloss over the horrors of that era. Levy discusses how colonials used John Locke’s philosophy as justification to steal land from natives. But the point of these early chapters is to show how capitalism emerged from British mercantilism in the U.S. Levy returns again and again to the work of Adam Smith to show “Smithian gains.” This age was brought to an end by the “political destruction of enslaved capital,” i.e. the end of the Civil War. This led to the Age of Capital, an emergence of industry. The government encouraged private industrial development, whether through railroad subsidies or protection tariffs. This age would be see a rise in productivity and a speculative boom-and-bust credit cycle. It also saw the rise of populism and nearly toppled the gold standard. Sadly, this age also saw the passing of the last significant third political party, the People’s Party. Detroit shows its glory days here as the book covers the rise of mass manufacturing. But this age ends with the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ushers in the Age of Control, where government comes to the rescue. The boom and bust cycle got stuck in a bust for longer than expected. Everyone, from investors to your uncle Bob, chose a perceived safety of possession as opposed to the long term benefits of investment. The New Deal sought to control the economy by reducing the volatility of capitalism and finding employment for men. But World War II came along to eliminate U.S. unemployment through massive government spending. Private contractors got rich off the government’s money then and still do, now. Consumerism roared through the country, achieving a golden age. But no golden age lasts. Profits dropped; wages stagnated; and Nixon took the nation off the gold standard right as OPEC initiated its embargo. The Age of Control ended in an inflationary crisis as capital morphed again. Finally, the Age of Chaos descends. Paul Volcker decides to raise interest rates, creating a shock that catapulted the Fed to the top of economic policy making. In the Age of Chaos, capital evolved into the short term asset appreciation focused thing we all know and love. Clinton’s New Economy leads to the Great Moderation which leads to the Great Recession. Tasked with fixing the great recession, the Obama administration returned capital to an economic continuity, except, as we now know, the return to a booming economy left many people out. This created a chaos that allowed a candidate like Trump to be elected, though he never delivered any help to those left out by Obama’s economy. Will Biden’s administration enact policies to end the Age of Chaos? Or are we stuck in a new cycle of small booms and mega-busts? Jonathan Levy decided to portion his book into four different eras of U.S. economy while sticking to his central study on capital and capitalism. The Age of Commerce, the Age of Capital, the Age of Control, and the Age of Chaos are titles for a truly epic fantasy, and this economic history is truly epic. It weighs in at close to a 1,000 pages with notes. Frankly, Levy could have broken this up into four books titled to their corresponding age, but the overall thesis would have been lost, I think. I think this is a very even handed yet detailed examination of the economic history of the U.S. I identified a number of things which I could debate with friends on either side of the political spectrum. Though I have no doubt that both sides of the political spectrum will claim this book leans to far in the other direction, I think it’s a fairly centrist book. Levy excels at letting the reader come to the same conclusions as him; he doesn’t beat us over the head with his opinion. Huge Book Ages of American Capitalism is a huge book, not just in terms of size but in terms of scope and in terms of ideas. Throughout the book, the reader is shown that capitalism has never been just one thing in the U.S. It has evolved and changed over time, responding to changes in society, politics, and the crisis of the day. Capitalism adapts as needed, but from this book, it seems as if each adaptation shortens the view of capitalism. I think. The reality is that I’ll need to read this book again to understand it better. Part of me wants to buy in paper form so that I can write marginalia to ensure Levy’s lessons stick in my head, but I prefer the electronic version for highlighting. There is so much to learn in this book that a single read through isn’t enough. Prior to each section, Levy put a short introduction to the chapters that will cover the next age. These introductions are good summaries, and I recommend reading them before and after the section. Before will prepare you for what’s coming; after will help you remember what you read. The Populists Ever since reading Thomas Frank’s The People, No, I’ve been fascinated by the populist movement of the late 1800’s. Levy includes a chapter on them, and I loved it. Levy describes the lessons we should draw from this failed party. Though it didn’t gain the White House and inevitably collapsed, it affected the politics of the time in lasting ways. Leaving the gold standard, being anti-monopoly, being wary of corporate power, and favorable laws for incorporating trade unions are all legacies of the populist movement. Levy does an excellent job analyzing the party with both the good and the bad of populism. It is anti-inequality yet is attractive to racists. The Populists were a varied group, and Levy captures the various dichotomies that populism entails. Notes One thing to note, Dr. Levy includes references to papers he’s written and published elsewhere. I didn’t check out those papers to see what other references are there. I think this matters if one were to use part of the book to debate. I like to base my arguments off more than one authority because otherwise I’m committing the appeal to authority error. Again, I don’t see anything wrong with this practice of citing your own work; I just didn’t read the papers to see how they influenced this book. If you did, please, let me know in the comments if reading the papers adds to this reading experience. Conclusion Jonathan Levy’s Ages of American Capitalism is a big book full of huge ideas written to be accessible to professionals and hobbyists like me. Levy succeeded in showing how capitalism changed and evolved as American society needed it to. Ages of American Capitalism connects the dots from the early days of U.S. colonies to the Great Recession of 2008 in elegant yet thoughtful ways. Ages of American Capitalism by Jonathan Levy is available from Random House on April 20th, 2021. 8 out of 10!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    Rarely do I have an eBook with as many highlights and saved passages as this one – it’s simply one of those few books that you really wish most people would read. It’s so satisfying and really does cover the entire breadth of American economic history. Authored by a University of Chicago professor the expectation was that this would be more fawning of the major economic developments, but as Tyler Cowan noted this is ‘mostly an economic history from a left-mercantilist, nation-building point of v Rarely do I have an eBook with as many highlights and saved passages as this one – it’s simply one of those few books that you really wish most people would read. It’s so satisfying and really does cover the entire breadth of American economic history. Authored by a University of Chicago professor the expectation was that this would be more fawning of the major economic developments, but as Tyler Cowan noted this is ‘mostly an economic history from a left-mercantilist, nation-building point of view’. I can’t entirely disagree and would expect no less a description from a George Mason type, and certainly the Univ. of Chicago is no longer stuck in 1973, but I was so impressed that on the very accurate and seemingly unbiased description of the way that the US economy developed and progressed over the past 200 years. The last section, The Age of Chaos, was an apt title, expertly delivered and explained by Levy. Needless to say, this was one of my favorite books this year and one that I look forward to revisiting and referring to in the future.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Pankau

    This is a lot of book. Levy lays out academically an overarching history of the American economy framed through the progression of capital and how it has changed over the various historical eras, starting with colonization and the acquisition of land right up through the start of the COVID-19 slump. Levy's main thesis is that capitalist economies are organized around capital and that you can derive a lot of understanding of economics by looking at how capital is shaped and how owners of capital This is a lot of book. Levy lays out academically an overarching history of the American economy framed through the progression of capital and how it has changed over the various historical eras, starting with colonization and the acquisition of land right up through the start of the COVID-19 slump. Levy's main thesis is that capitalist economies are organized around capital and that you can derive a lot of understanding of economics by looking at how capital is shaped and how owners of capital attempt to extract pecuniary returns from the capital that they own and how that is tied to investment and economic expansion. To give an example, in the pre-Civil War era, slaves represented a form of capital, and their emancipation was a huge shock to the South--not because of the loss of labor, but because a huge share of southern capital evaporated. Suddenly the only capital in the South was land, and that lack of investment property hindered the Southern economy. Levy doesn't sugar-coat or try to justify the horrors of slavery; he's simply explaining the economic ramifications of emancipation in terms that no one at the time would have been able to foresee. Levy, in fact, frequently circles back to how attitudes about race and gender have been entrenched in politics--indeed, much of the Southern agenda from the Civil War through to the modern age has been centered around white supremacy--and how that entrenchment legitimately hurts the economy. Another theme of Levy's is the idea of confidence. Commercial economics at scale necessarily means doing business with people you don't know, so how can you have confidence in people to transact fairly with you? The ideas of consumer confidence and confidence men (e.g., "con men") run in parallel, as institutions work to build trust while individuals work to erode it. A lot of ink is devoted to Herman Melville's book "The Confidence-Men" and P.T. Barnum's hoaxes, which are only tangentially related to economics, but form instructive examples. It gave me a lot to chew on, intellectually, and there were some fascinating nuggets that I hadn't heard before--and I listen to an awful lot of economics podcasts! I didn't know, for example, that Thomas Jefferson's policies involved allowing more people to own smaller plots of land because doing so meant more people were eligible to vote that would support his party and agenda. Or the details of how Paul Volcker nearly single-handedly crushed the inflation boom of the 70s. This is intended for a general audience, but some background with economic ideas will make the reading go more smoothly. It's very dry. Even the rare bits of humor are dry. (I'll confess that I chortled mightily at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke about mark-to-market accounting being described as the great literary fiction of the 00's.) It's not going to be for everyone, clearly, but if the idea of it seems interesting to you, check it out. It's an extremely well-executed version of itself.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nate Horning

    I’m very conflicted on how I feel towards Ages of American Capitalism by Jonathan Levy. On the one hand, this is a very dense and dry book filled with jargon I was unfamiliar with and sections that nearly put me to sleep. On the other hand, this is an incredibly insightful, well-researched, and unbiased account of the American economy from colonization through to the Great Recession. Taken as a whole, the narrative and its four stages make for a cohesive retelling of the transformation of capita I’m very conflicted on how I feel towards Ages of American Capitalism by Jonathan Levy. On the one hand, this is a very dense and dry book filled with jargon I was unfamiliar with and sections that nearly put me to sleep. On the other hand, this is an incredibly insightful, well-researched, and unbiased account of the American economy from colonization through to the Great Recession. Taken as a whole, the narrative and its four stages make for a cohesive retelling of the transformation of capital itself. There are many “Aha!” moments and revealing truths packed into this book if one is willing to take the time to wade through some fairly complicated material. One of my major criticisms would be the lack of foundational definitions for terms that are used throughout the book. Some terms pop up frequently and it would be beneficial for the reader to understand how the author defines such words in the given economic context. Another criticism is that I wish it were a bit more brisk; I sometimes wanted the author to pick up the pace so that it felt more like a story as opposed to a textbook. Overall, Ages of American Capitalism deserves much praise for the sheer depth and breadth of topics and eras covered. After I finished this book, I found it to be an unvarnished, professorial, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting account of events. And this is precisely why I know this author is an evenhanded and unbiased historian. Like the truth itself, this book isn’t sensational, misleading, or loud. Instead, it is a blunt assertion of facts for those wishing to understand our objective reality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    Lengthy book where it's easy to get lost in the weeds, but there's some really good content in it. He divides up US economic history into four ages: the age of commerce (pre-Civil War), age of industry (pre-FDR), age of control (FDR until Reagan), and the age of chaos (last 40 years). He notes that the 2008 recession didn't really change the nature of the economy the way the Great Depression did. He also notes that FDR had decades of policies to pick from whereas there was very little like that Lengthy book where it's easy to get lost in the weeds, but there's some really good content in it. He divides up US economic history into four ages: the age of commerce (pre-Civil War), age of industry (pre-FDR), age of control (FDR until Reagan), and the age of chaos (last 40 years). He notes that the 2008 recession didn't really change the nature of the economy the way the Great Depression did. He also notes that FDR had decades of policies to pick from whereas there was very little like that in'09 when Obama took office. (To that end, I think the '08 Recession better repeats the Panic of 1893, which was huge, but didn't alter anything). Levy notes that state action always precedes a shift in the direction of the economy. One issue: the book essentially ends in 2010. He has a brief epilogue, but it's a bit odd that an attempt at an all-encompasssing history doesn't decide to encompass the last decade. (Note: he was inspired to write this in part because existing histories of the US economy don't come anywhere near the present, so he's getting us closer, but not quite all the way). There's a lot of good info here, but there's too much for me to process so soon after having completed it. I'll look over my notes over the next few days.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathanael Mickelson

    This is a significant book, but not necessarily a great one. As a synthesis of modern trends in American historical scholarship, it is swimmingly proficient. However, American historical scholarship might also be considered at a low point and the prejudices of present scholarship are evident when Levy disagrees with historical actors, as he avoids engagement with genuine intellectual criticism and prefers the smug condescension and near ad hominems that, if expressed forcefully enough, is confus This is a significant book, but not necessarily a great one. As a synthesis of modern trends in American historical scholarship, it is swimmingly proficient. However, American historical scholarship might also be considered at a low point and the prejudices of present scholarship are evident when Levy disagrees with historical actors, as he avoids engagement with genuine intellectual criticism and prefers the smug condescension and near ad hominems that, if expressed forcefully enough, is confused for enlightenment. Additionally, the main economic outlook of the book is some paleo-Keynesianism which deifies Keynes while ignoring one of his more admirable traits, the ability to pivot when confronted with new information. Moreover, pretentious vocabulary is substituted for synonymous terms which exist in present vernacular and convey the same ideas with more clarity, ie “scarcity value of money” where “purchasing power” is quite adequate. Still, it is an admirable overview of American history and useful for understanding present currents in the history of capitalism and American history more broadly.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rick Goff

    This book is a work of history, not a critique or an indictment. The book makes no doctrinal or ideological arguments in its organization or exposition. There are themes, of course, the most prominent, to my mind, being the effect of the tendencies of capital either to speculate or to hoard, and the role of government in shaping economic outcomes, including productivity and economic inequality. American economic history is divided into Ages of Commerce (Smithian expansion of markets and resource This book is a work of history, not a critique or an indictment. The book makes no doctrinal or ideological arguments in its organization or exposition. There are themes, of course, the most prominent, to my mind, being the effect of the tendencies of capital either to speculate or to hoard, and the role of government in shaping economic outcomes, including productivity and economic inequality. American economic history is divided into Ages of Commerce (Smithian expansion of markets and resource exploitation), Capital (the Civil War, industrialization and Fordism, and the Bull Market and Great Depression), Control (the New Deal and income politics), and Chaos (the Volcker Shock, deregulation, financialization, and the Great Recession). I’ll bet Levy is a popular professor. He makes pretty technical information interesting and he connects the economy to individuals and culture. The manuscript contains more than a dozen typos in its 741 pages, the most cringeworthy being “morality” in place of “mortality.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ian Karundeng

    Amazing. The author, Jonathan, has a great ability to map out the economic history of the United States in a clear, concise yet entertaining way. The structure of the book revolves around Jonathan's chronological division of the history of the United State's political economy into four distinct eras/ages, and how its beliefs, cultures, laws, and geopolitical events during these ages broadly shaped the the countries economy. The main insight the book seems to reiterate is the idea that capital is Amazing. The author, Jonathan, has a great ability to map out the economic history of the United States in a clear, concise yet entertaining way. The structure of the book revolves around Jonathan's chronological division of the history of the United State's political economy into four distinct eras/ages, and how its beliefs, cultures, laws, and geopolitical events during these ages broadly shaped the the countries economy. The main insight the book seems to reiterate is the idea that capital is a social and arbitrary construct, and that who the owners/receivers/distributors/regulators of capital should be are contingent on the aforementioned factors of the particular age. Although some concepts might be difficult to grasp for those who are not learned on the language of finance, the overarching narratives and stories will not be lost on the layman. A potential downside for some may be that Jonathan's left leaning bias becomes more obvious towards the end.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I enjoyed Levy's story of the American history from an economic view, but am less than sure that his characterization of that history into his four stages, particularly the most recent 'Age of Chaos,' is a helpful way to help understand the story. The idea that slaves could be treated economically as capital was an element that was somewhat helpful, but I was not sure of what point Levy was trying to make there. There are likely other, more helpful, histories of America from a social and politic I enjoyed Levy's story of the American history from an economic view, but am less than sure that his characterization of that history into his four stages, particularly the most recent 'Age of Chaos,' is a helpful way to help understand the story. The idea that slaves could be treated economically as capital was an element that was somewhat helpful, but I was not sure of what point Levy was trying to make there. There are likely other, more helpful, histories of America from a social and political view but that often miss the capitalist message that is suffused throughout.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Patrick

    Thank goodness for John Lee, narrating this book, because I'm pretty sure I would have gotten stuck just reading it myself. I am interested in economics, but never managed to get too excited about U.S. history, probably because of uninspiring teachers in high school and college. Plus, we never covered anything past WW2, because that seems to be all history teachers' favorite period. Snooze. Anyway, looking at U.S. history through the lens of economics taught me a lot, and helped me understand cu Thank goodness for John Lee, narrating this book, because I'm pretty sure I would have gotten stuck just reading it myself. I am interested in economics, but never managed to get too excited about U.S. history, probably because of uninspiring teachers in high school and college. Plus, we never covered anything past WW2, because that seems to be all history teachers' favorite period. Snooze. Anyway, looking at U.S. history through the lens of economics taught me a lot, and helped me understand current and recent events better.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    This was generally a good book but something about the style kept me from really grasping an overall picture and from loving it. I guess I feel like he didn't adequately explain the context for a lot of the terms he used frequently in summarizing statements. I was left without a satisfying summary. He covered a lot of ground, generally pretty well. He described the various periods well enough but left me without a good conclusion, perhaps because of his choice of words and sentence structure. This was generally a good book but something about the style kept me from really grasping an overall picture and from loving it. I guess I feel like he didn't adequately explain the context for a lot of the terms he used frequently in summarizing statements. I was left without a satisfying summary. He covered a lot of ground, generally pretty well. He described the various periods well enough but left me without a good conclusion, perhaps because of his choice of words and sentence structure.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I absolutely loved Levy's Freaks of Fortune about the history of risk and was very excited about this one. It definitely did not disappoint, but it was more of a chronological account of this happened and then that happened until the end. It is a book that seems aware of its own importance and still, it is an important point. I think it is well-worth reading for anyone interested in American history--but be warned that it is long. I absolutely loved Levy's Freaks of Fortune about the history of risk and was very excited about this one. It definitely did not disappoint, but it was more of a chronological account of this happened and then that happened until the end. It is a book that seems aware of its own importance and still, it is an important point. I think it is well-worth reading for anyone interested in American history--but be warned that it is long.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Parkes

    Excellent overview of American history from a socio-economic viewpoint. Levy is a masterful scholar with a light touch. Slightly left of center maybe at times but keen to provide both sides of the argument in most cases. Highly recommended as an insight into some of the reasons why America is as it is today.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Travis Sundwall

    A competent overview of historical political economy in the United States. The author has a definite and consistent viewpoint throughout the book (Government intervention was a necessary ingredient for national prosperity). This is not necessarily a negative, as the book is narrative history. The way the author’s biases are conveyed openly makes it easier for the reader to evaluate the book’ arguments and factual presentations. Despite the length of the book, the sheer number of events and people A competent overview of historical political economy in the United States. The author has a definite and consistent viewpoint throughout the book (Government intervention was a necessary ingredient for national prosperity). This is not necessarily a negative, as the book is narrative history. The way the author’s biases are conveyed openly makes it easier for the reader to evaluate the book’ arguments and factual presentations. Despite the length of the book, the sheer number of events and people discussed in the book prevent more than a cursory description of any individual topic.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    Thank you Random House for the (ironically?) free book! Jonathan Levy’s fascinating new history is a well-argued chronicle of how the invention of American capitalism has ranged from unconscionable to inspiring. Let’s try to make its reinvention more the latter.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rolf

    Impressively comprehensive, and very educational, but after stalling out about halfway through I had to read it in small installments over time, because it’s dry as hell.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian Vargo

    A little dense for an audiobook though

  24. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Fullagar

    too dense

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caleigh

    This counts as both a book and a weapon

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angela Randall

    Nice book This is a good book for those who like this sort of book.I'm not that interested but I think a lot of people are. Just giving my honest opinion Nice book This is a good book for those who like this sort of book.I'm not that interested but I think a lot of people are. Just giving my honest opinion

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Upper-level college, early graduate / MBA level This is a fascinating, though long, book telling American history from the perspective of capitalism, how British/American culture and politics influenced and was influenced by capitalism. A lot of the core beliefs of America and a lot of the key events have capitalism involved as a factor. Interested people without a background in economic history will still find this book absorbing and highly relevant to today. It is quite long, 944 pages in hardb Upper-level college, early graduate / MBA level This is a fascinating, though long, book telling American history from the perspective of capitalism, how British/American culture and politics influenced and was influenced by capitalism. A lot of the core beliefs of America and a lot of the key events have capitalism involved as a factor. Interested people without a background in economic history will still find this book absorbing and highly relevant to today. It is quite long, 944 pages in hardback and it is quite dense in parts so be prepared for a long read. It has lots of illustrations, not just charts and maps but also paintings and other images. The images are good quality (for the ebook version). It starts in 1660 and goes up to last year (2020). There are four ages: Age of Commerce, Age of Capital, Age of Control, and Age of Chaos. The book is very well written, not just the style but also the arrangement. Every section starts with a preface that covers everything the section will cover, so if you want just the highlight you can read all the prefaces. He repeats his key points quite a lot so it’s clear what he is trying to show the reader. I know American history up to about to WWI. Up to that point the book is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Levy frequently uses one person as the model for peoples’ beliefs and actions, which I found useful. He doesn’t just talk about economics, he discusses how the economics affected home life, culture and politics, and vice versa. One of his points is that the desire to make a profit is not enough to stimulate people to invest in capitalism. Over time various factors, cultural and political, have provided this stimulus. After WWI things start to get complicated because people are aware of the rules of economics and this influences their actions, which changes what’s happening, etc. I believe that you can’t really write history until at least 50 years have passed, but the newer stuff is still interesting and definitely relevant to today. 5 stars (I only give out 3-4 five star reviews a year) I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rich Radford

    A tremendous scholarly work with fascinating insights that's so readable. One of the best economics books & history books I've ever read that explains how our dynamic American economy achieved so much at each stage of our national journey. A tremendous scholarly work with fascinating insights that's so readable. One of the best economics books & history books I've ever read that explains how our dynamic American economy achieved so much at each stage of our national journey.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stijn F.

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