GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America

Jason Goodwin, Author . Holt/Macrae $27.50 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6407-0

After a strong start, this history of American money loses its thread and ends up as an entertaining collection of trivia, personality profiles and vignettes rather than the compelling narrative promised in its opening. Still, Goodwin's flair for a colorful tale makes for rich reading, covering such odds and ends as a brothel in the Treasury Department, a prayer vigil over banking deposits, exploding printing presses and even a counterfeit scheme run from behind prison bars. Goodwin (Lords of the Horizons) makes some excellent points about the role of paper money in early U.S. history—it was the earliest symbol of the new country; it helped push colonists West; it even helped familiarize Americans with their native artists—but the significance of the stories he's chosen to include isn't always clear. After presenting a single national currency as one of the holy grails of early American banking, for instance, he glosses over the moment it finally arrives, a true turning point in American financial history. Goodwin's position as a foreign observer (he is an English journalist) occasionally trips him up: no one in America, for example, says "that will be four dollars thirty six." The cast of characters is as colorful as they come, and in the end the book makes good reading for those interested in odd and exciting tales from American financial history. But it's not the fascinating narrative take on the history of money in America that Goodwin sets out to deliver, and which the subject deserves. 30 b&w illus. Agent, Sarah Chalfant. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-55927-841-6
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-312-42212-7
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-55927-856-0
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