Biography of the Dollar

by Kenneth Anderson

Some of my students have asked if there is some book that provides an entry level discussion of monetary issues and currency.  One quite good recent book is Craig Karmin, Biography of the Dollar.  Karmin is a Wall Street Journal reporter, and his book offers very good financial journalism (February 2008).  It covers the history of the dollar and its relation to gold and other currencies.  The discussion of paper money and its issuance, and the evolution of central banking, is excellent.  Among the most interesting chapters are the chapters on dollarization of several country economies – Ecuador is the main example – and then the role of the dollar as the reserve currency (for the moment, anyway).  The chapter on South Korea offers a good illustration of how US deficits, and the accumulation of dollar denominated US treasury securities in vast quantities in Asian central banks, can have enormous repercussions for the value of the dollar and the US economy.  It is a journalistic account, not a textbook, so it is not systematic in the way that a textbook would be, but it is highly readable, informative, and requires no special background.

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