Readers need not trouble themselves with the first hundred or so pages. The account of the spread of the pandemic and the lead-in to lockdown is fine, but it doesn’t hold any surprises for those who were reading the newspapers at the time ... In the absence of an insider’s account, Tooze’s deep understanding and close observation of markets and monetary policymakers provide a pretty good substitute, and the story he tells is a gripping one ... It’s a complex story, which Tooze tells with clarity and verve. Out of a large pile of sows’ ears, in the form of statistics, academic papers and deliberately dull press releases, he weaves a remarkably readable narrative. Cliffhangers abound ... Tooze illuminates his story by setting it in the context of historical events and big economic ideas. And he is assiduous in explaining the links between what decision-makers are doing and what’s happening in the markets, between events in the rich world and those in emerging markets, between geopolitics and the global economy ... Instant histories are rarely successful, but the world is unlikely to be treated to a better account of the economics of the pandemic than the central section of Tooze’s book. Anybody who is curious about how the thing was managed should read it; anybody who wants to know how to turn a technical subject into thrilling writing should learn from it.
I expected to find it uncomfortably positioned between two stools: stale as journalism but premature as history. Instead, it is fascinating – informative and wise ... provides the raw material from which scholars will gradually piece together what has been going on. It will take years for theory to catch up, but thanks to the likes of Tooze we already know a little ... Tooze’s expertise is in financial history, and so the behaviour of central banks looms large here. It is a revealing lens given the extraordinary course of financial events during the past eighteen months.
Tooze approaches economics from a liberal Keynesian perspective and, as a US-based Briton who grew up in Germany, is proudly cosmopolitan. He does not hide his opinions – not least, about the foolhardiness of Brexit – so he will presumably be accused of the usual things by the usual people, but Shutdown is a seriously impressive book, both endlessly quotable and rigorously analytical. Tooze synthesises a huge volume of information to argue that we must prepare for a new wave of crises or risk being sunk by them. Hopefully, governments everywhere will heed his warning.
... brilliant, bracing ... nuanced and wide-ranging. Tooze has the impressive ability, as a writer, to contextualise historical events as they unfold ... Tooze’s assessment of China’s post-Covid ascent may be overstated. How much of the CCP’s rhetoric of recovery should we take at face value? But his damning appraisal of the West is impossible to refute. We knew another major pandemic was coming and we had the resources to cope.
... engaging ... [Tooze] largely allows the facts to put the questions he raises into sharp relief ... this book’s great service is that it challenges us to consider the ways in which our institutions and systems, and the assumptions, positions and divisions that undergird them, leave us ill prepared for the next crisis. You don’t need to believe that a never-ending cycle of deficit-funded spending, offset by monetary intervention, is sustainable in order to believe that the scale of spending generally contemplated to deal with an existential threat like climate change, or a societal threat like poverty, is woefully inadequate. You can just believe we need to pay for it ... does gloss over the dangerous underside of Beijing’s authoritarian regime.
Tooze makes a strong case for looking back, and beginning to draw some conclusions. . . . His focus is the period that started with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s public acknowledgement of the coronavirus outbreak on Jan. 20, 2020, and ended with U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration exactly a year later. The scale and variety of what unfolded in the intervening days remains dizzying. Tooze lucidly organises these events in the book’s 300 pages, while maintaining the sweeping perspective that will be familiar to readers of Crashed.
... a sprawling narrative that somehow makes the most astonishing (continuing) episode in our lives less rather than more interesting ... Admittedly Tooze is an economic historian, and for the great majority of people it is the role of scientists and doctors (and of humanity itself trying to cope with enforced isolation) that truly grips, not the struggles of central bankers and finance ministries to adapt monetary and fiscal policy to the scale of the challenge posed by Covid-19 ... Yet even on his chosen ground Tooze gives little sense of the tumultuous debate that must have been going on within governments at the highest level. For example, the words Rishi and Sunak do not appear in the 300-page text, although the British chancellor was the engineer of the furlough scheme that, at least in terms of UK policy, was the most significant and successful response to what the author rightly identifies as a unique economic challenge ... Tooze may well be right in theory, but then economists as a type tend to underestimate the political difficulties, at least in democracies, of enforcing their rational solutions. That, naturally, applies much less to China, where the People’s Liberation Army is always available, in the last resort, to enforce the diktats of the central committee of the Communist Party.
Tooze briskly and expertly recounts the tense weeks in March 2020 when the Fed shored up the Treasury market with collateralized short-term loans, dropped interest rates to zero and announced backstops for commercial paper — promissory notes that companies issue to fund short-term obligations ... Tooze scarcely dives into any other health-related calamities or major financial scares. He dedicates just a few paragraphs to the flu pandemic of 1918...While there may be few lessons for central bankers or fiscal policymakers to learn from 1918, one would think that Tooze, a professor of history at Columbia University, would be well positioned to research and detail how politicians addressed the hardships brought on by the last pandemic or how some of the world’s most enduring corporations managed through it ... Tooze’s book offers readers a comprehensive and smartly written summary of the economic impact of the coronavirus. I marveled at how he included data points from Turkey, Trinidad and a range of small countries. I can see myself using this book as a reference guide, turning back to highlighted passages — and the extensive footnotes — to remind me of key moments and announcements in 2020 ... The biggest shortcoming of Shutdown is that historian Tooze’s subject is far from history. The book ends in May 2021, before global health organizations started warning about the rise of variants and breakthrough infections, and before companies pressed pause on ambitious return-to-work plans. Meanwhile, the new era of government spending championed by Tooze is hardly a fait accompli.
In addition to deep analysis into the role central banks played in mitigating the economic fallout of worldwide economic shutdowns, Tooze contextualizes the massive economic and political efforts to address COVID, drawing comparisons with responses to the 2008 recession. While some readers may wonder whether the full impact of 2020 can be understood halfway into 2021, Tooze’s sense of urgency in the face of historic upheavals is a compelling argument for the world to prepare for momentous change.
A comprehensive history of an unprecedented year, Tooze’s account describes how the pandemic played out politically across the globe, the interplay between climate change and the pandemic, and the myriad effects of the world economy nearly shutting down in a brief period that, as Tooze puts it, made 'History with a capital ‘H.’' Readers will find this deeply informed parsing of the pandemic to be illuminating and thought-provoking.