Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian

Norton. Jul. 2019. 368p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393609196. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393609202. BIOG
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in defending his lending practices during the 2008 financial crisis, cited for authority 19th-century banker Walter Bagehot (1826–77). In response, financial journalist Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer) offers this biography of Bagehot, asserting that his subjects’ secure career at Stuckey’s Bank, a large and successful English country bank, allowed him to be editor of the weekly Economist as well as to write prolifically on various subjects for other publications. Grant sketches influential events in Bagehot’s career, including the Peel Banking Act of 1844, the Panic of 1857, the American Civil War, the Overend Gurney bankruptcy, electoral reform, and a foreign government debt crisis. Grant explains it was Bagehot’s 1873 book Lombard Street that popularized the idea of having a lender of last resort to stem financial panic but adds that Bagehot also called for that lending to be at high interest rates and only against good collateral.
VERDICT Grant’s readable work both illuminates Bagehot’s life and places his writings in the conservative gold standard context of his time. [See Prepub Alert, 1/7/19.]

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