Shortfall: Family Secrets, Financial Collapse, and a Hidden History of American Banking

Alice Echols (Author)


The rollicking true story of a 1930s version of Bernie Madoff--and the building and loan crash he helped precipitate--in a wonderful work of narrative nonfiction by the Gustavus Myers book award winner

Shortfall opens with a surprise discovery in an attic--boxes filled with letters and documents hidden for more than seventy years--and launches into a fast-paced story that uncovers the dark secrets in Echols's family--an upside-down version of the building and loan story at the center of Frank Capra's 1946 movie, It's a Wonderful Life. In a narrative filled with colorful characters and profound insights into the American past, Shortfall is also the essential backstory to more recent financial crises, from the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s and 1990s to the subprime collapse of 2008.

Shortfall chronicles the collapse of the building and loan industry during the Great Depression--a story told in microcosm through the firestorm that erupted in one hard-hit American city during the early 1930s. Over a six-month period in 1932, all four of the building and loan associations in Colorado Springs, Colorado, crashed in an awful domino-like fashion, leaving some of the town's citizens destitute. The largest of these associations was owned by author Alice Echols's grandfather, Walter Davis, who absconded with millions of dollars in a case that riveted the national media. This book tells the dramatic story of his rise and shocking fall.

Product Details

$26.95  $24.79
New Press
Publish Date
October 03, 2017
5.7 X 1.2 X 8.3 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Alice Echols is a professor of history and the Barbra Streisand Chair of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. She is the author of several books including Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, and Shortfall: Family Secrets, Financial Collapse, and a Hidden History of American Banking (The New Press). She lives in Los Angeles.


Praise for Shortfall
"Using family documents and her mother's memories, Echols depicts a man whose financial malfeasance foreshadowed the savings-and-loan debacle of the eighties and the stock-market crash of 2008."
--The New Yorker

"[An] intimate study of a Depression-era building-and-loan failure. Echols's absorbing portrait makes Main Street the rival of Wall Street for callous corruption."
--Publishers Weekly (Starred)

"[Shortfall is] a thoughtful, thoroughly researched look at financial crises, past and present."

"A lively and informative treatment in which one man's rise and fall opens a window onto a long-overlooked historical landscape in all its finely drawn detail."
--Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Hot Stuff
"In this expertly rendered, wide-ranging history of one of pop's most exciting social and musical movements, Alice Echols thoroughly recovers the moment in which disco was born and flowered."
--Ann Powers, NPR

"Echols's love of music, her acumen about popular culture, and her gifts as a leading cultural historian come together in this remarkable book. . . . Fascinating, carried along by prose that is as sleek and slinky as its subject."
--Christine Stansell, University of Chicago

"Engrossing . . . scholarly but fun."
--The New York Times

"Echols aims for--and thoroughly achieves--a range of higher cultural insights. . . . Revelatory."
--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Scars of Sweet Paradise
"Written with cinematic flair, Scars of Sweet Paradise takes us on a poetic wild ride where we confront Joplin's demons, her dreams, and her pains. In the process we discover a passageway into the social and cultural history of an entire generation."
--Robin D.G. Kelley, UCLA

"Stunningly original and evocative. . . . No previous writer has identified Joplin's achievements as successfully as Echols does in this book."
--George Lipsitz, University of California, Santa Barbara

Praise for Shaky Ground
"Alice Echols is that rarest of breeds: a great historian and a great writer. She captures, as no one else has, the dizzyingly absurd complexity of American culture and cultural politics in our times."
--David Nasaw, author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

"Alice Echols makes brilliant, fresh, original sense of the contradictory Sixties--the music, the politics, the people. No one has done more to place the era in context--its own and ours."
--Katha Pollitt, The Nation