<B>America's passion for cash</B><B>Greenback</B> is a history of America as seen through its money from the currency initially adapted by the colonies and territories from their mother countries to today's credit and debit cards. While the combination of history and money may seem like the formula for a two-stage sleeping pill, Goodwin keeps his appraisal lively by concentrating on the colorful characters who made the creation, accumulation and dispensation of cash a ruling passion. Beyond its utility in everyday commercial transactions, money ultimately helped bind the nation together (after binges of fiscal individualism) and open up the West. In telling his story, Goodwin spotlights a succession of emblematic characters, among them the 17th-century Massachusetts-born treasure hunter, Sir William Phips, an early exemplar of the rags-to-riches theme that would become peculiarly alluring to Americans; self-taught inventor Jacob Perkins, who devised machinery for thwarting counterfeiters; and the tenacious Civil War spy,Lafayette Baker, whom Goodwin calls "America's first secret agent." On more familiar ground, Goodwin explains how differing concepts of money widened the philosophical rift between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and how Andrew Jackson made political hay through his opposition to Nicholas Biddle and the Bank of the United States. Photos of America's evolving currency are included throughout the text.
It should be pointed out that this book is in no way an economic treatise. It poses no new theories of wealth or how wealth can be put to its greatest use. It has nothing to reveal about the workings of the stock market. If Goodwin has a grand point to make, it is that money takes on a life of its own, one that is seldom congruent with the original aims of its creators. "Money won't be confined," Goodwin observes. "It runs into the street. Money likes making friends. Money can't bear to be idle, can't keep to itself, can't help but chase after the latest fad or the hottest show. Fickle as love, it will gladly promise itself to anyone. Money's curious, prying, venturesome, and unforgiving: you can't lock money up when the sound of the band wafts through the grille."