Don't know too much about money or how it's used, and has been used, to further national, and personal, interests? And at what cost, literally and figuratively? Want to learn? These new are books for you.

The Economic Government of the World: 1933–2023

Martin Daunton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $45 (1,024p) ISBN 978-0-374-14641-2
Efforts to make the world run smoothly in the face of global economic disasters from the Great Depression to the Covid-19 recession are recapped in this sweeping study of international economic institutions. Cambridge University economics professor Daunton (State and Market in Victorian Britain) surveys a century of initiatives to develop currency exchange rates, international trade and capital flows, and national economic policies. He elaborates three historical movements: the shift in exchange rate policy from the gold standard to the 1944 Bretton Woods system of fixed but flexible exchange rates to the current regime of floating exchange rates; the long struggle to negotiate lower tariffs through the arduous General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other processes; and the ambitions of poor countries to develop and win fairer deals on trade and aid from an international order dominated by rich nations. Daunton focuses on the ideas of such figures as John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, and highlights both watershed moments and minor kerfuffles, including the “chicken war” of 1962 that pitted American poultry exporters against European trade barriers. Tackling a mountain of material on this complex subject in lucid, elegant prose, Daunton spotlights the constant tension between the elite goal of global economic efficiency and voters’ demands on national governments for equality, stable jobs, or welfare spending. The result is a robust history that elucidates the human impact of the machinery of global trade and finance. Photos. (Nov.)

Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America

Daniel Schulman. Knopf, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-0-451-49354-5
Biographer Schulman (Sons of Wichita) delivers an ambitious and captivating group portrait of Jewish financial dynasties “with profound legacies” in the U.S. from the 1830s to the present. Delving into the genealogy of prominent “members of a close-knit German-Jewish aristocracy of New York,” Schulman describes how the nation’s unregulated “fledgling financial system” during the Civil War created an opportunity for these immigrants to rise from peddlers to Wall Street moguls. In addition to providing in-depth profiles of well-known families like Goldman, Sachs, Guggenheim, and Lehman, he spotlights Jacob H. Schiff, the “greatest Jewish philanthropist of the 20th century.” An early head of Kuhn Loeb (a major investment bank until the 1980s), Schiff was dubbed the “Little Giant” after he “plunged” the company into the railroad business. Already successful when he joined the firm in 1875, Schiff built Montefiore Hospital, funded both the Henry Street Settlement and Barnard College, and brought Russian Jews to the U.S. during the pogroms. Schulman presents a wealth of fascinating detail (the blockade-running Lehman brothers supplied the Confederate army with black-market cotton) and details how, despite their status, these financial titans faced antisemitism. Full of vivid personalities and intriguing tales of alliances and rivalries, this is a sensitive and compassionate portrait of the families that built Wall Street. (Nov.)

The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire

Tim Schwab. Metropolitan, $29.99 (496p) ISBN 978-1-250-85009-6
The Microsoft mogul’s vaunted charity has done more harm than good, according to this heated polemic. Journalist Schwab debuts with an exploration of the allegedly counterproductive machinations of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—“one of the most feared organizations on earth,” Schwab writes, because its vast funding resources give it dominion over the global nonprofit sector. Much of his criticism targets Gates’s work on vaccines: the Gates Foundation both dominated and botched the World Health Organization’s COVAX program to procure Covid vaccines, Schwab argues, resulting in a tragic scarcity of vaccines in Africa and other poor regions. He also tags Gates with pushing America toward the Common Core program of educational standards, which failed to improve student performance, and prodding African farmers to use genetically modified crops that failed to improve yields. Along the way Schwab probes Gates’s egomania and rages, his harvesting of tax breaks, his chumminess with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and vague intimations of racism at the Gates Foundation. Much of Schwab’s case against Gates is simply that he is a billionaire and therefore a defender of inequality and “a canker on democracy.” Still, Schwab’s critique hits home when he details how Gates Foundation initiatives have misfired with little benefit from billions spent. Gates’s detractors will find useful ammunition here. Photos. (Nov.)