cover image Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream.

Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream.

Eric John Abrahamson. Univ. of California, $34.95 (364p) ISBN 978-0-520-27375-7

Abrahamson (Anytime, Anywhere) maps changing patterns of trust in government as economic steward, and mid-century regulatory approaches of mutual protection for consumers and lenders, onto the life of Howard Ahmanson, a savings and loan magnate who profited by homeownership. The kaleidoscopic approach succeeds; its subject is as complicated as his milieu. Ahmanson earned the modern equivalent of about $258,000 as a teenager before helming the "largest savings and loan of any kind in the country," with nearly two billion in assets. A decade after the war ended the percentage of savings deposited in savings and loans more than doubled; forward-thinking Ahmanson diversified risk by loaning to individual residents rather than few large entities. However, he also reflected mainstream social ideas of his day: though some "marginalized" borrowers benefited from his loans granted on the basis of housing quality, until federal regulation shifted, minorities continued to suffer from systematic avoidance of lending in pockets of poverty. At heart, this is about a son surpassing his goal to earn back a family company lost when his father died, but Abrahamson's dense analyses make this study relevant to today's debates about how to fairly regulate the financial marketplace. (Jan.)