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Hostile Money Reviews

Professor Forrest Capie. Cass Business School, City University of London

In ‘Hostile Money’ Paul Wilson brings a different perspective to the study of money and draws on historical experience to illustrate the two-way relationship money has with society. Money can be used consciously and possibly aggressively to shape matters or it can itself be the consequence of, for example, social changes. Wilson discusses in a large coverage over time and space: the effect of social movements on monetary systems; the impact of war on monetary systems; and the interplay between private and state activities and aims.  But there are many other interesting aspects of the story such as counterfeiting, both private and state, or of smuggling and so on.  This is a book full of interest for all kinds of audiences.

John Plender Author of Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets.

Paul Wilson's Hostile Money is an extraordinarily wide ranging review of the relations between war, revolution and money - an essential and compelling guide to a fascinating area where economics  and geopolitics collide.

Paola Subacchi 

Professor of International Economics, University of London's Queen Mary Global Policy Institute

Paul Wilson, Hostile Money: Currencies in Conflict, The History Press, 2019.

I am intrigued by the numerous links between money, power, and conflict, but I am also frustrated by how the topic is typically treated – mainly by international-relations specialists, because economists generally steer clear of it. This well-researched book, which includes both historical examples and contemporary evidence, avoids those pitfalls, while offering a fresh perspective on some important dynamics.

Project Syndicate Website Book Recommendations 2019

Robert Pringle

Impressively erudite, he never lets his command of detail hold up the story, so that the reader is swept up in the stormy history of money’s role in some of the greatest social, political and military conflicts from ancient Rome to the cyber warfare of the 21st century.

Wilson successfully explores the inter-connections between major social movements/events/conflicts on the one hand and money/monetary systems one the other. 

The author wears his scholarship lightly. He has no ideological axes to grind. He avoids getting bogged down in sterile debates  for example about monetarist versus Keynesian interpretations of the Great Depression or other much-debated periods of 20th century economic history. He rightly views money as a key social institution, responding to political, military and economic pressures but having its own dynamic. Money stands ready to make its contribution to progress, given the chance to do so. It is part of the effort to better the human condition. This combination of qualities make the book a pleasure to read.

Shades of Sovereignty

Money and the Making of the State

This comprehensive book traces the role of money in the creation of the state. Starting in the early modern era, Paul Wilson explores the monetary systems of empires and new states in the age of nation-building in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Spanning a wide geographical and historical range from the creation of the United States of America to the establishment of the European Union and the breakup of the Soviet Union and beyond, the author examines changing attitudes toward monetary sovereignty as dozens of new states created new currencies since the end of the Second World War.


Wilson analyzes the decision–making of newly independent states in their choice of an appropriate currency, considering the complex factors involved—ranging from the purely economic to questions of security, international recognition, and outright nationalism that have played a part. The author challenges the notion that each country must necessarily have its own currency and explains why some newly independent countries have chosen to adopt the currency of another state. Citing the examples of international currency unions of the nineteenth century and the present day, he contends that sharing a currency does not represent a surrender of political sovereignty. Instead, Wilson argues for a more rational attitude toward money as a facilitator of transactions rather than as a symbol of national identity.

Steve H. Hanke, Johns Hopkins University

Paul Wilson skillfully sifts through the ever-changing, shifting sands of monetary sovereignty to produce a clear, coherent portrait. What do we see? That monetary sovereignty is all about the right to determine a unit of account, a means of payment, and, yes, the right to produce money.


Warren Coats, International Monetary Fund, 1976–2004; author of One Currency for Bosnia

The subject of money has intrigued us for millennia and has been treated in many books, but none like Paul Wilson’s fascinating account of how money helped fashion nations. The historical breadth of coverage is breathtaking and engrossing. The choice of monetary regimes has sometimes been determined by economic and sometimes by political considerations. Unsurprisingly, a distinct national currency has often been an important symbol of nationhood for newly independent countries, whether its value was linked to gold, another currency, an inflation target, or nothing at all. But as Wilson engagingly documents: ‘There is no single solution to the question of which currency regime should a new country adopt.’ Wilson traces more currency history than you probably thought you needed to know, but by the time you finish his absorbing account, you will be glad that you read every word.

Central Banking Journal

Any central banker who wishes to set the monetary history of his or her state in historic perspective and in its relation to broad international trends will find this stimulating book essential reading.

Cash & Payment News

The primary challenge through all of the stories recorded in the book is how to ensure stability in the value of the currency. Irrespective of whether the currency is based on a tangible object such as gold and/or silver, or linked in some way to another currency, citizens will seek out stable value. This book tracks the constant struggle of nations to do this, particularly where they lack scale, wealth or stability. Given the rise of cryptocurrencies, this book challenges the link between money and sovereignty. Monetary independence is separate from having your own currency.

Book of the year - International Banknote Society - 3rd place

'A potentially dry subject is however made accessible by the author’s readable style and broad scope of coverage of currency systems around the world and across ages. There is much here to fascinate paper money collectors keen to know more about the historical background of the notes they collect.'

Coffee with Hitler - Charles Spicer

(Oneworld 2022)

Charles Spicer’s  Coffee with Hitler is an elegantly written investigation of the Anglo -German Fellowship of the 1930s and of its principal actors and their motives. Drawing on previously unpublished primary source material and forensically dismantling the myth that  the Fellowship was a thoroughly pro-Nazi association, Spicer sets the record straight. In doing so he exposes the hidden agenda of polemicists of the left such as the pseudonymous Simon Haxey, the barrister and civil servant Arthur Wynn , later revealed to be a Soviet spy, whose 1939 book, Tory MP,  was the first attack on the Fellowship .

Politically active aristocrats ,some of them certainly pro-nazi extremists, and  captains of industry with an eye to the trading prospects of a sound relationship with Germany were among the regular members of the Fellowship. But there were also  prominent figures  whose aims were to ‘civilise’ the Nazi regime before it descended into a maelstrom of madness. Among these were Philip Kerr, the Marquess of Lothian , who would be appointed Ambassador to Washington and prove an effective representative of Britain to the US . Kerr’s hopes for some understanding between Germany and Britain were shattered along with so many shop windows by the brutality of Krystallnacht and he, like others in the Fellowship , changed their view of Nazi Germany at that point.  In the short time he was accredited as Britain’s Ambassador to the United States and before his untimely death in December 1940 , Kerr managed to secure Roosevelt’s agreement to the Lend-Lease act , providing essential materiel enabling Britain to continue the fight until the US entered the war. Kerr’s damascene conversion might be a lesson in the principle that peace and good relations with other countries can and should be pursued until the point where no  option is viable other than war.

 Three members of the Fellowship in particular , recognising the failure of their initial  ‘civilising ‘ mission , would play an important , but eventually frustrated, part in attempting to warn Neville Chamberlain , his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax , and a handful of Whitehall mandarins of Hitler’s  plans for the Rhineland , Austria and Czechoslovakia. Ernest Tennant , a First World War veteran who , as an officer of the Intelligence Corps , was amongst the first to visit Berlin at the end of hostilities, Grahame Christie , an intrepid pilot of the Royal Flying Corps in the First War who then  served as Air Attache in Berlin 1927-1930 and the owlish TP Conwell-Evans , a minor political secretary and lecturer at the University of Koenigsberg would all take personal risks to provide first rate political intelligence.  All three had exceptionally good connections with well – placed sources in the German foreign ministry or, until everything started to go horribly wrong, with very senior members  of the Nazi party including Goering and Ribbentrop. As Spicer shows , their confidential briefings - at times uncannily accurate -  found a willing recipient in Robert Vansittart , Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. Vansittart , or Van as he was known ,  proved to be an outlier in the Whitehall machine, suspicious of the Nazi regime, an anti-appeaser and a firm advocate of  re-armament and confrontation with Germany.  Yet Van’s treatment of his primary sources of outstandingly valuable intelligence  tells us  much about the mentality of the Whitehall mandarin.  Having been proven right in his willingness to confront Germany , Van had been ennobled and as a member of the House of Lords spoke in a debate there in February 1945. In a moment of indiscriminate disloyalty to Tennant, Christie and Conwell Evans who , as Europe teetered towards war , had taken personal risks to provide him with intelligence, Van denounced the Anglo – German Fellowship as ‘ a dangerous organisation’ all of whose membership ‘should come under suspicion’.  

Spicer distils the key lessons from Coffee with Hitler  in the penultimate paragraph of the last chapter. They should be taken in by politicians, diplomats , intelligence officers and the columnists of national newspapers who all play a part in shaping the nation’s foreign and defence policy. Until then the rest of us can read this excellent book as something akin to a political thriller.

Paul Wilson

October 2023



PW Photo 3.jpg

After careers in the Army ( 1975 -1985 )and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( 1986-1994) I joined De La Rue PLC, the British banknote and passport printers . Over my more than 20 years there in various roles including those of Sales Director of the Currency  Division and Managing Director of the Identity Systems business, I travelled to Central Asia, the Middle East, Transcaucasia, the Caribbean, the Balkans, Western Europe and both North and South America. Latterly, eight years in the role of Director of Government Relations presented an unique opportunity to observe the Westminster operation close - up.


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