A vast literature exists on nearly every aspect of the Civil War. But Roger Lowenstein’s Ways and Means, an account of the Union’s financial policies, examines a subject long overshadowed by military narratives ... In the hands of a less skilled author, the litany of bonds, notes, loans and forms of currency that he discusses could become mind-numbing. But Lowenstein is a lucid stylist, able to explain financial matters to readers who lack specialized knowledge. Perhaps he can write a book that helps laypersons like me understand recent innovations such as cryptocurrency and nonfungible tokens ... Lowenstein devotes considerably less attention to Southern fiscal policy, but what he does say is scathing.
... captivating ... Mr. Lowenstein makes what subsequently occurred at Treasury and on Wall Street during the early 1860s seem as enthralling as what transpired on the battlefield or at the White House ... Ultimately, Mr. Lowenstein centers the story so firmly on the Union’s Treasury department that it becomes perhaps too easy to overlook Lincoln’s masterful stewardship of the entire war effort. But the author is right that the beleaguered president fully delegated finances to his gifted but flawed Treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, who embraced both the challenge and the credit ... To great effect, Mr. Lowenstein makes the most of opportunities to view wartime milestones, political and military included, through an economic lens.
... masterful ... Lowenstein’s lucid, character-driven narrative delves into these and other developments, explaining how crucial economic reforms were to winning the war, and how Republican legislation during Lincoln’s presidency greatly increased federal power and fulfilled his vision of how a strong national government could better the lives of ordinary Americans ... Full of fascinating historical tidbits and clear explanations of complex financial and political matters, this is a must-read for American history buffs.
Lowenstein is not a Lincoln scholar, but no matter. His experience writing about financial matters informs this fresh look at the president’s essential Republican roots as a self-made man, rather than slaveholder, and belief that anyone could be successful in America ... Lowenstein ably chronicles the myriad economic problems facing each side ... An accessible exploration of how war enabled the federal government to acquire real financial power.