Saving the City: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914.

Author:Milne, Nick
Position::Book review
 
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Saving the City: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914, by Richard Roberts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 20.00 [pounds sterling] [$31.00], hardcover, 320 pages.

There were at least six suicides attributable to the crisis in the City: four stockbrokers, including a German broker who had been 'thrown out' of the Stock Exchange, as well as a metal broker and a Lloyd's underwriter--most were in August and by revolver. There was also a further stockbroker who jumped in front of a tube train but survived and was prosecuted. (232) The story of finance--though often told through numbers, statistics, etc.--is at its heart a human story. So, too, is the story of the city; so, too, is the story of war. Richard Roberts' Saving the City: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 offers a timely and fascinating narrative that intermingles all three, describing how a small group of clerks, brokers, statesmen and diplomats preserve the stability of the London financial markets and, with them, the economic foundation of the Empire. "The City" in this case is the central square mile of London housing the city's financial district. Roberts' text examines the impact of the declaration of the First World War on London's financial markets, the dramatic steps that were taken to stave off a crippling panimperial banking crisis as a result of that declaration, and the extensive (and expensive) impact that these steps often had on London itself.

Work of this sort fills an important and still pressing gap in the war's historiography. Jay Winter in his "Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919: capital cities at war," has noted (6) that "the wartime social history of all major European cities, including the great metropolitan centres of Paris, London, and Berlin, has yet to be written" (Capital Cities at War, eds. Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)). While the years since Winter's lament have seen the publication of a host of works intended to redress this imbalance, focused economic histories that consider the wartime role of cities in national and international contexts are still comparatively few.

The London of 1914, as of 2014, was one of the great financial capitals of the world; as the tendrils of imperial power radiated both inward to and outward from that center, so, too, did a steady stream of money, commodities, people, and all of the other things that turn a metropolitan space into a cosmopolitan one. Such a community is particularly...

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