David Hackett Fischer, one of our most prominent historians, has garnered a reputation for making history come alive--even stories as familiar as Paul Revere's ride, or as complicated as the assimilation of British culture in North America. Now, in The Great Wave, Fischer has done it again, marshaling an astonishing array of historical facts in lucid and compelling prose to outline a history of prices--"the history of change," as Fischer puts it--covering the dazzling sweep of Western history from the medieval glory of Chartres to the modern day. Going far beyond the economic data, Fischer writes a powerful history of the people of the Western world: the economic patterns they lived in, and the politics, culture, and society that they created as a result. As he did in Albion's Seed and Paul Revere's Ride, two of the most talked-about history books in recent years, Fischer combines extensive research and meticulous scholarship with wonderfully evocative writing to create a book for scholars and general readers alike.
Records of prices are more abundant than any other quantifiable data, and span the entire range of history, from tables of medieval grain prices to the overabundance of modern statistics. Fischer studies this wealth of data, creating a narrative that encompasses all of Western culture. He describes four waves of price revolutions, each beginning in a period of equilibrium: the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and finally the Victorian Age. Each revolution is marked by continuing inflation, a widening gap between rich and poor, increasing instability, and finally a crisis at the crest of the wave that is characterized by demographic contraction, social and political upheaval, and economic collapse. The most violent of these climaxes was the catastrophic fourteenth century, in which war, famine, and the Black Death devastated the continent--the only time in Europe's history that the population actually declined.
Fischer also brilliantly illuminates how these long economic waves are closely intertwined with social and political events, affecting the very mindset of the people caught in them. The long periods of equilibrium are marked by cultural and intellectual movements--such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Victorian Age-- based on a belief in order and harmony and in the triumph of progress and reason. By contrast, the years of price revolution created a melancholy culture of despair.
Fischer suggests that we are living now in the last stages of a price revolution that has been building since the turn of the century. The destabilizing price surges and declines and the diminished expectations the United States has suffered in recent years--and the famines and wars of other areas of the globe--are typical of the crest of a price revolution. He does not attempt to predict what will happen, noting that "uncertainty about the future is an inexorable fact of our condition." Rather, he ends with a brilliant analysis of where we might go from here and what our choices are now. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the world today.
"Very persuasive....A major work that deserves the attention of all historians."--Nancy Gordon, Bloomberg Quarterly
"This year's best book for investors."--The New York Times Annual Survey of Books in Business and Economics
"A powerful piece of historical analysis and ought to become part of everyone's framework of understanding."--New Statesman and Society
"A provocative and thoughtful tour through history."--The Economist
"Tantalizing....A bold thread coursing through the weave of eight centuries of economic history."--William P. Kucewicz, Markets
"This is a fascinating book; it is also an important one.... Fischer succeeds in demonstrating that there are recurrent waves of price revolutions in human history.... His is a powerful piece of historical analysis and ought to become part of everyone's framework of understanding."--William Rees-Mogg, New Statesman and Society
"A bold overview of how ordinary men and women have been protagonists in a drama that was (in retrospect) nothing less than the modernization of economic life."--Civilization
"An informative and readable history of price revolutions.... Fischer combines a lively narrative with cogent analysis and sound advice."--Library Journal
"This year's best book for investors....Too often, historical perspective on Wall Street means going back a decade or two. Mr. Fischer instead traces inflation data from medieval times forward, finding evidence of repeated long patterns of rising prices, followed by long periods of stability. In the process, he demolishes some theories of what causes inflation....The thesis is both believable and fascinating, and so is the book."--Floyd Norris, The New York
"It is rare to find a history book that tells an important story without putting you to sleep, especially perhaps if the subject is economic history. But David Hackett Fischer's The Great Wave is just such a book, both informative and compelling....A panoramic view of the role of prices and the pernicious effects of inflation down through the ages."--Stanley W. Angrist, The Wall Street Journal
"The Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer gives us a brilliant, bold analysis of the relationship between economics--the prices of things--and human welfare over 800 years.... [This book] allows us to observe an audacious and prodigiously learned historian's mind at work.... Fischer has, in fact, given us one of our classic American jeremiads."--William S. McFeely, The Boston Globe
"The breadth and depth of Mr. Fischer's knowledge, his facility with languages and his expertise in handling both quantitative and qualitative evidence exemplify the historian's craft.... He has described the past and present in ways that inspire interesting questions and offer novel insights into our condition. Can a historian make a finer contribution?"--Thomas J. Archdeacon,The New York Times Book Review
"Mr. Fischer looks at a thousand years of European history, and documents with fascinating detail long periods of rising prices that are accompanied by social unheaval and even war, followed by long periods of stable prices accompanied by social calm."--Wall Street Journal
"No economist or historian will agree with everything [Fischer] says. Many will vehemently disagree; but most will learn a great deal."--Lexington Herald-Leader
"Utilizing a very long telescope, one that sees back as far as the Dark Ages, Fischer investigates the history of price changes to expound on a fascinating theory that can possibly foretell nothing less than the furture of the United States, whether we're headed for an era of greater prosperity, or a catastrophe like that of the Great Depression.... Economics has been called the dismal science, but Fischer's work offers a cautionary story that is readily
understandable and surprisingly compelling to the general reader."--The Herald
"After reading this superbly written and potentially controversial book, you'll never glare at a price tag in quite the same way again."--San Franciso Examiner
"In scholarly yet lucid prose, [Fischer} traces price trends back to medieval times in Europe and the colonial days of the Americas. What he discovers is a bold thread coursing through the weave of eight centuries of economic history."--Market
"In an interesting and informative way, the author reminds us of the real consequences that economic policy has in each person's life, consequences that extend far beyond economic well-being."--Michael Wald, Monthly Labor Review
"Very persuasive...a major work that deserves the attention of all historians."--Nancy Gordon, History
"Economists can read this book with interest and profit....Fischer is a consummate stylist and meticulous in his attention to details."--Rondo Cameron, Journal of Economic Literature
"Fascinating reading. Fischer is no sensationalist trying to crank out a pseudo-economic bestseller, but a serious economic historian....A book worth chewing on and digesting."--Barton Biggs, Morgan Stanley Dean Whitter Investment Perspectives