Adam LeBor: Tower of Basel

The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World

Public Affairs, 2014 (2013)


LeBorTower of Basel is the first investigative history of the world’s most secretive global financial institution. Based on extensive archival research in Switzerland, Britain, and the United States, and in-depth interviews with key decision-makers – including Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve; Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; and former senior Bank for International Settlements managers and officials – Tower of Basel tells the inside story of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS): the central bankers’ own bank.

Created by the governors of the Bank of England and the Reichsbank in 1930, and protected by an international treaty, the BIS and its assets are legally beyond the reach of any government or jurisdiction. The bank is untouchable. Swiss authorities have no jurisdiction over the bank or its premises. The BIS has just 140 customers but made tax-free profits of $1.17 billion in 2011-2012.

Since its creation, the bank has been at the heart of global events but has often gone unnoticed. Under Thomas McKittrick, the bank’s American president from 1940–1946, the BIS was open for business throughout the Second World War. The BIS accepted looted Nazi gold, conducted foreign exchange deals for the Reichsbank, and was used by both the Allies and the Axis powers as a secret contact point to keep the channels of international finance open.

After 1945 the BIS – still behind the scenes – for decades provided the necessary technical and administrative support for the trans-European currency project, from the first attempts to harmonize exchange rates in the late 1940s to the launch of the Euro in 2002. It now stands at the center of efforts to build a new global financial and regulatory architecture, once again proving that it has the power to shape the financial rules of our world. Yet despite its pivotal role in the financial and political history of the last century and during the economic current crisis, the BIS has remained largely unknown – until now.


“Despite a title that makes it sound like conspiracy-theory nonsense, this is a serious, well-documented story about a very real bank, the Bank for International Settlement (BIS), which predates both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Founded by the governors of the national banks of Britain, France, Italy, and the U.S. in 1930, the bank was created to oversee German reparations payments after WWI. Drawing on previously published sources, original research, and interviews with some of the key players in the story, the author introduces readers to this little-known but highly influential bank and charts its course into the twenty-first century. It’s a story of financial intrigue, secrets and lies, rumor and truth. LeBor, a business journalist (he’s also the author of several thrillers), knows how to make a true story about finance as thrilling as any spy novel. A highly entertaining and informative book about the most powerful bank you’ve probably never heard of.”  David Pitt, Booklist
“Adam LeBor’s Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank That Runs the World makes a strident case for challenging these financial shamans [central bankers]…Mr. LeBor’s polemical tone makes his book compelling…It’s a very ugly picture, and Mr. LeBor has painted it well.”  Wall Street Journal

Tower of Basel is essential reading. Meticulously researched and fluently written, it reveals a slice of the modern world’s untold history – a gripping tale of covert networks, secret deals and unaccountable, powerful individuals whose decisions shape our lives.”  Edward Lucas, author of Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today

“Adam LeBor has written an absolutely fascinating history of the BIS, perhaps the most enigmatic financial institution in the world. The story he unveils of the many skeletons in its closet and its astounding ability to remake itself periodically only add to its mystique.”  Liaquat Ahmed, author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

“Compelling reading – a masterly depiction of the role of the BIS in the Nazi period and Second World War.”  Harold James, professor of history and international affairs, Princeton University, and author of Making the European Monetary Union

“An absorbing and thorough examination of one of the world’s most important yet opaque institutions”  Reuters Breaking Views

“[LeBor] does a creditable job in this well-researched account.”  New York Times Book Review

“LeBor exposes the wheeling, dealing, and often nefarious activities of global investment bankers…Lively…The historical and contemporary power of the secretive BIS will surprise and alarm readers.”  Publishers Weekly

 About Adam LeBor:
Adam LeBor is an author, journalist, and literary critic based in Budapest. He writes for The Economist, The Times (London), Monocle, and numerous other publications, and also reviews books for the New York Times. He has been a foreign correspondent since 1991, covering the collapse of communism and the Yugoslav wars, and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is the author of seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including the ground-breaking Hitler’s Secret Bankers, and two novels. His books have been published in twelve languages.

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