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.