Review: The Great Swindle, Virginia Cowles

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is a very technical history of the South Sea Crash. As we are dealing with coverage of an economic event, this means that a lot of this text relates to economics though fairly basic ones. Even so, however, I did not find the author’s descriptions of the main characters in the story and the way the manipulated the marked to have been particularly helpful to understanding, and this is my main reason for the low rating.

The reader is also given brief glimpses into other stockmarket problems of the early 18th century, such as the Mississippi Company Bubble in Paris and the plentiful other events in London. However, especially with the British ones, the reader gets a list of companies and methods of stealing money over anything substantive. As these are not the main focus of the book, the coverage seems appropriate — especially for the reader to gain a better understanding of the financial climate of the 1710’s.

However, to move back to the South Sea Company… As I mentioned above, this history could have been more explanatory. Although written a fairly long time ago now, the author did not seemingly want to link it to the then-modern stockmarkets or how things worked — which would have helped the modern reader a lot more. This creates a lack of comprehensibility as whatever instruments are described, their context and potential effects need to be figured out independently of the swindle’s account.

Even so, I would recommend this — I think it is one of the few accessible and relatively modern accounts. There’s also a good tradition of narrative history included herein with fair background on the Hannoverian princes and their attitude as well as the eventual fates of the directors of the South Sea Company.

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