The title of this book is a giveaway: no one who picks it up could reasonably expect to find a measured, judicious history of the Bank for International Settlements, universally known as the BIS. On the other hand, without such a title, relatively few would pick up the book at all. It is a polemic, pure and simple. It makes no claims to balance, nor does it have any. Adam LeBor’s primary theme is that the BIS is hugely powerful and entirely outside any governmental or political control – as its founders intended. It began as a European institution and its reach is now global. His second theme is the amorality of bankers, virtually all of whom are presented as selfish, stunningly self-righteous and wedded to rules, unless these are inconvenient. His third theme, to which he repeatedly returns, is the invidious nature of German power and influence, and its continuing use of the BIS to facilitate its economic and, later, political dominance of Europe: though Hitler, even with the indirect aid of the BIS, failed in the end to unite Europe under the Third Reich, Germany is accomplishing this now by means of the European Union, the European Central Bank and, inevitably, the BIS.
The immediate origins of the BIS lay in the need after the First World War for an organisation to administer German reparation bonds, hence the creation of a bank for international settlements and for international financial transactions. A second, though not secondary, function was to serve as a central bank