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.