The Right Coast

September 09, 2005
Book Recommendation: An Empire of Wealth
By Mike Rappaport

For several years, I had been looking for a good economic history of the United States. I had tried many of the textbooks, but alas they were quite dull and sometimes organized in awkward ways.

My search has ended with John Steele Gordon's new book, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power. The book is beautifully written, and moves along at a brisk, but not superficial pace. When I read books, I have a hard time finishing them. I usually put them down for a time, and it is only with the good ones, that I eventually pick them up and finish them.

Gordon's book was so good and readable that I never put it down. In fact, I started reading it, after I needed a break from Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which I thought was quite a good book. When an economic history keeps your attention more than a Tom Wolfe novel, that is saying something. (Hopefully, it is saying something about the books, but I recognize it could be saying something about me.)

Gordon has an interesting take on economics. He clearly favors markets and businesses, and there is plenty in this book for supporters of free markets. Yet, Gordon is also sympathetic to big government, starting with Hamilton's economic agenda (which makes some sense) and even extending to much of the New Deal (which makes far less sense). Still, this questionable judgment does not really diminish the value or fun from this book.