In James Grant, it sometimes seems, the nineteenth century has been resuscitated. Towering, gaunt, bow-tied, and pinstriped, he writes with a sly wit that recalls the novels of William Thackeray. His signal achievement is a fortnightly cult publication bearing the antique title Grant’s Interest Rate Observer. He is a nostalgic believer in the nineteenth-century gold standard. He eyes modern banking innovations with stern, starch-collared suspicion, as though peering at them through a monocle. Even traditional financial instruments elicit a wry scorn. “To suppose that the value of a common stock is determined purely by a corporation’s earnings,” Grant once wrote, “is to forget that people have burned witches, gone to war on a whim, risen to the defense of Joseph Stalin and believed Orson Welles when he told them over the radio that the Martians had landed.”
Now, Grant has written a delightful biography of Walter Bagehot, the great nineteenth-century Englishman in whom Grant perhaps recognizes a grander version of himself: the would-be Victorian sage is paying tribute to the authentic one. From 1861 until his death in 1877, Bagehot served as the third and most famous editor of The Economist. He was a confidant of William Gladstone, the dominant
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