Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt

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9780140270150: Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt

Measured at the staggering amount of $5.1 trillion (and growing every day) the national debt is unfathomable to most Americans. What we may not realize is that the United States was born out of debt. After the Revolution, the brilliant Alexander Hamilton was less interested in paying down the Revolutionary war debt than in using it to create a vibrant national economy. "If it is not excessive," he declared, "a national debt will be to us a national blessing." In a fascinating narrative brimming with colorful characters, historical accidents, and American ingenuity, business historian John Steele Gordon leads us on a tour of an American institution whose largely unknown story has been integrally entwined with our country's destiny. At key points in U.S. history, Gordon shows how the national debt has been a potent instrument of fiscal policy in keeping the world safe for democracy. But how much debt is too much? At a time when we despair of balancing even a single year's budget, Hamilton's Blessing provides much needed perspective - and hope. * Author writes the "Business of America" column in American Heritage magazine and is heard often on public radio's "Marketplace."

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Review:

Over the past couple of decades, our national debt has become a favorite political football for Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet few Americans seem aware that the debt has a long and (mostly) honorable history. Alexander Hamilton considered it a kind of political Krazy Glue, which would also spur American industry by keeping taxes high. This borrowing power enabled the North to win the Civil War without wrecking its economy and rescued us from the Great Depression. John Steele Gordon doesn't deny the dangers of an entire nation living on credit; indeed, he believes that our fiscal affairs are a mess. But he puts this mess in fascinating perspective. And he's quick to see the human side of economic behavior: "One problem," he writes, "is that human nature predisposes us to recognize depression easily and quickly, but prosperity, like happiness, is most easily seen in retrospect." Bull's-eye!

About the Author:

John Steele Gordon is one of America's leading historians, specializing in business and financial history. A full-time writer for the last nineteen years, Gordon's articles have been published in, among others, Forbes, Forbes FYI, Worth, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times's and The Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed pages, and The Washington Post's Book World and Outlook. A contributing editor at American Heritage magazine, he has written the "Business of America"column there since 1989. His book, The Business of America (Walker & Company, 2001) is a collection of those columns. A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable (Walker & Company 2002) is Gordon's sixth book. His first book, Overlanding, about his experience driving a Land Rover from New York to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina??ine-month journey of 39,000 miles?? published by Harper & Row in 1975. It was followed by The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, a history of Wall Street in the 1860?(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (Walker & Company, 1997), and The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, 1653-2000 (Scribner, 1999). John Steele Gordon can be heard frequently on Public Radio International's Marketplace, the daily business-news program heard on more than two hundred stations across the country. He has appeared on numerous other radio and television shows, including Business Center on CNBC, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, The News with Brian Williams, and c-span's Booknotes with Brian Lamb. In addition, he has appeared in a number of television documentaries about American and economic history, including CNBC's The Great Game, based on his book, and Ric Burns's New York: A Documentary Film. John Steele Gordon lives in North Salem, New York. He is currently writing An Empire of Wealth: A History of the American Economy, to be published by HarperCollins.

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