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ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO many economic theorists believed — just as they did at the beginning of the twenty-first century — that the world had reached a state of economic perfection, a never-before-seen condition of beneficial human interdependence that would lead to universal growth and prosperity. And yet, after the disaster of defeat in the First World War, the early years of the Weimar Republic in Germany witnessed the most complete and terrifying unravelling of a major country's financial system to have occurred in modern times.

The Downfall of Money tells the dramatic story of the hyperinflation that saw the once-solid Gold Mark, worth 4.2 to the dollar in 1914, collapsing on the foreign exchange markets and trading at over 4 trillion to the dollar by the autumn of 1923. By then, one pound of bread cost 3 billion marks, one pound of meat 36 billion and one glass of beer 4 billion. German banks printed more and more money until children were given great wads of worthless banknotes instead of building blocks to plays with.

Frederick Taylor reveals the real causes of the crisis, what the collapse meant to ordinary people and how it affected their lives, and also traces its connection to Germany's subsequent catastrophic political events. By drawing on a wide range of sources and making sense of the vast amount of specialist research that has become available in recent decades, he provides a clear-eyed and timely look at this chilling period in history which speaks across the years to our own time.


"The legendary depreciation of the German currency reached its height in late 1923, when vast oceans of paper money drove the hyperinflation. But as Frederick Taylor’s excellent ‘The Downfall of Money’ makes clear, it was a drama that had already begun in August 1914 … By skilfully weaving together economic history with political narrative and drawing on sources from everyday life as well as the inner cabinet of diplomacy, Mr Taylor tells the story of the Weimar inflation as the life-and-death struggle of the first German democracy”

-- Prof. Adam Tooze, The Wall Street Journal

“He uses reportage well ... And has a deft touch with personal anecdotes. His forte, revealed in earlier books on Germany, is narrative history, which trots along at a friendly pace”

– The Times

“Taylor has many absorbing passages: his accounts of life in pre-war Berlin, the immediate post-war stance of the imperial navy, the outrages of the Freikorps, the persistence of nationalism, the ravages of the extended Allied blockage and the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in 1923. Equally arresting ... Is a German memorandum written in 1914 (but only discovered in 1950) on the assumption that the country would win the war ... Embellished with much contemporary detail painstakingly trawled from newspapers, diaries and other books”

-- The Literary Review

“Germans are terrified of inflation ... By the end of The Downfall of Money it is clear why these fears are so deeply embedded. At the root of the trauma lie the events of 1923, when the German currency plummeted from 7,500 Reichsmarks to the dollar to a rate of 2.5 trillion ... It is remarkable that the world’s second-biggest economy didn’t disintegrate. Frederick Taylor, who has written several books on this era, is careful to blame no one ... He is quick to offer parallels with the recent financial crisis, when many governments turned to quantitative easing ... To avoid recession or even depression. And his book has suggestions about where the world may be heading if it is not careful”

-- The Economist

“The Germans are the financially righteous nation, the finger-waggers at the improvident Greeks and, on occasion, at the Americans. Germans are that way because of their cultural memory of the great inflation of 1919-1923 … The hollowing-out of the middle class led to more radicalism in the next economic crisis, when the Nazis finally took power. For readers of political and economic history, Taylor’s account of it is a superb rendering of one of the political dramas of the 20th century”

-- The Seattle Times


"An economic horrory story ... There is much engrossing craziness to cover ... Abused by the vengeful victors, the Germans turned to abusing (and slaughtering) themselves. Taylor details the less obvvious ways in which dizzingly high prices frayed the social fabric ... There are, Taylor suggests, parallels between the profligate German welfare state of the 1920s and Germany's European Union peers today."

-- The New York Times


Available from Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Bloomsbury Press (USA), from all good booksellers, from online retailers, and as an e-book.


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Also published in Germany from Siedler Verlag as “Inflation: Der Untergang des Geldes in der Weimarer Republik und die Geburt eines deutschen Traumas”.

To watch Fred's appearance on RBB's arts show, Stilbruch -- filmed at the Casino on the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin -- click this link



© 2007-2013 Frederick Taylor