David Liss’s Secret History of America’s First Market Crash

When I met David Liss in mid-October to talk about his new novel, The Whiskey Rebels, the stock market had just been through its first set of freefalls—a weird week, as we discussed during the brief period before my video recorders battery died, to be publishing a historical novel about an attempt to force the collapse of American finanical markets during George Washington’s administration. I asked Liss if he had heard about the conspiracy theories, which former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee had floated on his new talk show, that 2008’s financial crises might be the result of a similar plot. “I don’t think it’s possible,” he said firmly. “It’s the most completely clueless theory I’ve heard.”

“It took a certain amount of work to make the markets as unregulated and crazy [now] as they were in the late 19th century,” he continued. “What really made it possible then was the small parameters of the market.” It would have been easy for a few people at a few banks to inflict serious damage on the emerging American economy, he explained. What makes his novel so brilliant is not just that he comes up with an explanation that makes sense given what we know of the real American history, but that he layers in a fictional drama that makes his scenario compelling as well as plausible.

But when he began reading about the Founding Fathers in late 2004, he said, “it really had more to do with my own sense of political disillusionment” than with any literary ambition. It was only when he noticed himself circling around the Bank of the United States, the Panic of 1792, and the Whiskey Rebellion that he was thinking of a book.


24 November 2008 | interviews |

A Quiet Room for New York Writers, for Free

The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction, the literary foundation with which I co-manage a reading series for debut novelists, has a studio on the top floor of its midtown Manhattan headquarters, a quiet environment for writers to work on their stories with wireless internet, a reference library, even a small kitchen. Ordinarily, this would cost at least $100 a month, but the fees have been waived for December: “Access to the Studio will be granted on a first-come, first served basis, with priority given to writers with some publication history, though all writers are welcome,” I’ve been told—just provide proof of that publication history, or of some dealing with the publishing industry, when you fill out your application.

21 November 2008 | events |

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