ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Keynes vs White at Bretton Woods

The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order by Benn Steil (New Jersey: Princeton University Press and Council on Foreign Relations), 2013; pp 449, $29.95 (hardcover).

The story of how the Bretton Woods system of international monetary management came to be created can be told at many different levels: at the global level that considers how major countries came together in the dying days of the second world war to forge a blueprint for future economic cooperation; another global historical perspective that views it as a watershed moment for the eclipse of one major imperialist power (Britain) and the clear emergence of its successor (the United States (US)); an intellectual level that recognises the battle of ideas about international financial architecture and the nature of global reserve currencies that is still being fought today; and a personal level that puts the spotlight on the key players in the discussions and negotiations that preceded and generated the final outcome.

This book takes the last approach, but intermingled with perspectives from the others, producing a detailed and fascinating history. It is a gripping account, not just because of its readable style but because the chief protagonists in the story are such mesmerising figures.

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