Greenback: The Almighty Dollar

The BBC recently made a radio series on the history of the American dollar, and asked me along to talk about it, as the author of GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America.

The Athenaeum portrait of Washington, wearing his uncomfortable false teeth

The Athenaeum portrait of Washington, wearing his uncomfortable false teeth


Surprised? Well, it’s not a Yashim mystery, for sure: it’s the book I turned to after I’d written the story of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons. I wanted to describe the rise of another empire – and zooming in on the story of America’s money seemed the way to do it. Oblique, maybe – but an astonishing tale. BBC Magazine ran this piece on the series.

Gideon Fairman's engraving of Gilbert Stuart's portrait, on the dollar bill

Gideon Fairman’s engraving of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, on the dollar bill


As the shows aired, I took a look at GREENBACK again. I had to agree with a reader who recently noted striking parallels between the nineteenth century financial skulduggery it describes, and the 2007 financial crisis. It was a pity, he thought, that I hadn’t published the book after Lehman Brothers collapsed, the world banking system teetered, and the euro – that other new currency – began to unravel, a nightmare for countries in the grip of a deep and problematic recession.

Coming at GREENBACK after a lapse of years, I read with a fresh and readerly eye – a version of the old put-it-in-a-drawer-and-leave-it-for-six-months advice handed out to aspiring writers. I saw where the book lagged, and where it needed a tweak or a correction. So over Christmas, between the holly and the pudding, I revised GREENBACK wholesale, and wrote a new preface. I even tracked down a half-chapter which for some unaccountable reason had fallen out of the original manuscript, and restored it – it’s about Sir Walter Ralegh’s search for American gold, and the fate of the first settlement at Roanoke, in Virginia. It makes for spooky reading, and sits well with the whole thesis about the role of money in America.


The new Kindle edition

The new Kindle edition


I’ve now published the revised book on Kindle.  Here’s a selection of the reviews:

“The story of the dollar is the story of the country’s independence and emergence – and it couldn’t have been told more engagingly.” The Guardian.

“His engaging ‘Greenback’ … approaches the empire of the dollar with a foreigner’s sense of wonder and a dry wit.” The New York Times.

“Splendidly entertaining, fast-paced, and revelatory. . . Goodwin, who possesses the gift of concision and an impious eye for character, is a master at weaving together monetary theory and historical anecdote.” The Boston Globe

“A fanciful and charming meditation on money and the role it plays in our society, history, and culture. . .[Written] with flair, anecdote, and amusing aside.. . . A beguiling narrative.” Chicago Tribune

“[With] tidbits and tales that read more like novels. . . Greenback is a giddy ride into the past.” Barron’s

“A riveting story with a quirky cast of American characters that includes a few of the Founding Fathers, inventors, counterfeiters, secret agents, bankers, and swindlers.” The Christian Science Monitor

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