The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order

In This Review

The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order
By Benn Steil
Princeton University Press, 2013
480 pp. $29.95
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Its title notwithstanding, this thought-provoking book is about much more than the 1944 conference that established the architecture of the postwar international monetary system, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The United Kingdom and the United States, close wartime allies, had vastly different views about what the postwar system should look like. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to preserve the British Empire, as did the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who represented the United Kingdom at Bretton Woods. Although he was no imperialist, Keynes saw British colonialism as an economic necessity. The Americans, on the other hand, thought it was about time the British got out of the business of world domination, and they pushed for a system that would reflect the new balance of power between the two allies. Steil is concerned not only with the substance of the negotiations but also with the key players, most notably Keynes, who was already famous by the time of the Bretton Woods meeting, and Harry Dexter White, the U.S. Treasury official who led the American negotiating team. White was favorably disposed to the Soviet Union and sought to help the Soviets, even while being tightfisted with the British.

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