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The first investigative history of The Bank for International Settlements

Tower of Basel - out now in paperback

"Adam LeBor's Tower of Basel makes a strident case for challenging [central bankers]...they are what a democracy should fear most." - Wall Street Journal

"A true story about finance as thrilling as any spy novel." - Booklist

The world's most exclusive club meets every other month at 7pm on Sunday evening in a circular tower block whose tinted windows overlook Basel railway station. Its members include some of the most powerful men in the world. They are central bankers, who have come to Switzerland to attend the Economic Consultative Committee of the Bank for International Settlements, the bank for central banks.

Set up in 1930 by an international treaty, the BIS and its assets are legally inviolable. The 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 2011-12.

Under Thomas McKittrick, the bank's American president, the BIS continued operating 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—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.

The bank is now at the centre of efforts to build a new global financial and regulatory architecture. Yet despite its central role in the history of the last century and during the current crisis, the BIS remains largely unknown - until now.

Tower of Basel is the first unauthorised investigative history of the world's most influential 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, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England and former senior BIS managers and officials, Tower of Basel tells the story of the secretive institution at the heart of the global banking network: the central bankers' own bank.

  • 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 Ahamed, 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"
  • "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"

Latest Journalism

News and Features

  • The return of the dictators Newsweek, May 2014
  • Serbia and Croatia sue each other for genocide Daily Beast, March 2014
  • Have a spring fling in beautiful Budapest New York Post, February 2014
  • WWII commemoration statue sparks row in Hungary The Economist, February 2014
  • The Scottish spy fighting Nazis in WWII New York Mail on Sunday, December 2013
  • The contentious legacy of Admiral Miklos Horthy The Economist, November 2013
  • Viktor Orban goes to London The Economist, October 2013
  • Thomas McKittrick: Hitler's American banker and OSS spy Tablet, August 2013
  • The Roma: a terrible waste of human potential The Economist, August 2013
  • How the Bank of England and the BIS funded the Nazis Daily Telegraph, August 2013
  • Tinker, Tailor, Reporter, Thriller: Writing spy fiction New York Times, June 2013
  • The Geneva Option: A modern thriller with Biblical roots The Times of Israel, May 2013
  • Hungary: Magyars and Moans The Economist, May 2013
  • Hungary's new constitution, again The Economist, March 2013
  • Orban's soldiers: Takeover at the National Bank The Economist, March 2013
  • Hungary vs Romania: Flag wars The Economist, February 2013
  • The new year starts badly for Hungary's PM The Economist, January 2013
  • Far-right MP calls for list of Hungarian Jews The Economist, December 2012
  • Magyar marching season: Bajnai is back The Economist, October 2012
  • The axeman goeth: Hungary hands over a killer The Economist, September 2012
  • Nazi war crimes: Hungary's toxic past The Economist, July 2012
  • Victor and Viktor: A tale of two prime ministers The Economist, July 2012
  • Hungary's new hero? Admiral Horthy returns The Economist, June 2012
  • Hungary's ailing economy The Economist, June 2012
  • Budapest: City of culture and festivals The Economist, April 2012
  • Schmitt quits: Goodbye plagiarising president The Economist, April 2012
  • Hungary and the European Union: Backing down The Economist, February 2012
  • Remembering Raoul Wallenberg: A hero of the Holocaust The Economist, February 2012
  • Hungary in crisis: Fidesz takes on the world The Economist, January 2012
  • What the Arab world can learn from Israel: Prince Hassan of Jordan interview Jewish Chronicle, December 2011
  • Comrade Karl is back in business, commodified Monocle, November 2011
  • I spy: thrillers come in from the cold. Financial Times, October 2011
  • Hungarians take to the street in mass anti-government demonstration The Economist, October 2011
  • Inside the International Criminal Court Monocle, September 2011
  • Hungary's former PMs could face debtors' prison. The Economist, August 2011
  • The return of partisan politics: Hungary after the EU presidency. The Economist, July 2011
  • The choices of war: the trial of Sandor Kepiro opens. Economist, May 2011
  • A goulash constitution but no ingredients from the opposition. Economist, April 2011
  • Hungary's Europe-wide strategy for the Roma: can it work? Economist, April 2011
  • Budapest's liberals awake: thousands demand press freedom. Economist, March 2011
  • Wiping the record clean: how Hungary will allow its archives to be destroyed. Monocle, March 2011
  • Game over for the world's dictators: Tunisia's internet revolution. The Times, via my blog, January 2011
Read more

The Geneva Option

Yael Azoulay does the United Nations’ dirty work by cutting deals that most of us never hear about. Equally at home in the caves of Afghanistan, the slums of Gaza, or corporate boardrooms all across the world, Yael believes the ends justify the means…until she’s pushed way beyond her breaking point.

When Yael is assigned to eastern Congo to negotiate with Jean-Pierre Hakizimani, a Hutu warlord wanted for genocide, she offers him a generous plea bargain. Thanks to Congo’s abundance of a valuable mineral used in computer and cell phone production, her number one priority is maintaining regional stability. But when she discovers that Hakizimani was behind the death the person she loved most in the world —and that the UN is prepared to sanction mass murder—Yael soon discovers that salvation means not just saving other’s lives but confronting her own inner demons.

Spanning New York City, Africa, and Switzerland, The Geneva Option is the first in a series of gripping and intelligent conspiracy thrillers.

  • The Geneva Option is very good indeed. LeBor writes fiction with the scrupulous focus of the journalist, the foreign correspondent, so the world he creates is driven by the sharp edge of reality—by the raw, brutal politics, by the monsters and desperate heroes—of a war that seems to go on forever.
    Alan Furst, New York Times bestselling author of The Mission to Paris“
  • A classic, fast-paced thriller…. Get ready to be entertained and educated.
    Olen Steinhauer, New York Times bestselling author of "The Tourist"
  • A gripping and atmospheric thriller from a great writer. Yael Azoulay is a character I’m looking forward to reading about again and again.
    Charles Cumming, New York Times bestselling author of "The Trinity Six"

News and Events

I have two new books out this year: Tower of Basel, the first investigative history of the mysterious Bank for International Settlements, and The Geneva Option, the first in a series of thrillers featuring Yael Azoulay. Yael works for the United Nations, doing the secret deals behind the scenes that keep the wheels of superpower diplomacy and big business turning.

You can watch me discussing Tower of Basel with Matthew Valencia, my colleague at The Economist, here.

I was honoured to be hosted by the World Policy Institute in NY for a discussion about Tower of Basel, and our event was filmed by C-span Book TV:

www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Basel

Tower of Basel is getting fantastic reviews. The Wall Street Journal said: "Compelling...It's a very ugly picture and Mr. LeBor has painted it well" while Reuters said: "Tower of Basel is an absorbing and thorough examination of one of the world's most important yet opaque institutions."

The Geneva Option is garnering critical acclaim. US Booklist said: "This thriller's prologue is a small masterpiece in...terror. The rest of the book fulfills the prologue's promise in ways completely credible, and thus, even scarier...Scene after scene of heart-clenching suspense in Africa, Switzerland and New York. Must read." while Publishers Weekly said: "British journalist LeBor introduces brilliant and beautiful Yael Azoulay, a behind-the-scenes negotiator for the United Nations in his gripping debut thriller...those looking for a strong heroine in the mould of Lisbeth Salander will be satisfied." and examiner.com gave The Geneva Option five stars: "I recommend this book. It is one of the best books I have read this year. The Geneva Option blends current international political issues with an entertaining story...This is the first book in the Yael Azoulay series and I am looking forward to many more. Book clubs will find lots of issues to discuss in reading this book."