332: Building Home by Eric John Abrahamson

by Gerard


332.32092: Abrahamson, Eric John. Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012. 269 pp. ISBN 978-0-520-27375-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 330: Economics
  • 332: Financial economics
  • 332.3: Credit and loan institutions
  • 332.32: Savings and loan associations
  • +092: Biography

That’s right, folks: this is a book about the life of an insurance salesman. Year after year, we see Hollywood glamorize the life of the intrepid peddler of policies, each movie more fantastic than the next. How can a dusty book even hope to rise to such an occasion? I jest, of course, but there was a time in America where the savings and loan associations were king, when home-building and suburbia blossomed into the epitome of the America dream. And Harold F. Ahmanson (1906-1968), the son of a Scandinavian businessman from Omaha, was on the people in the center of entire enterprise. Eric John Abrahamson’s Building Home tells his tale.

From somewhat lackluster beginnings in Nebraska, he followed the business life of his father with intense interest. Her started a brokerage account at twelve and soon learned the ins and outs of the stock market, often anticipating movements in the economy. When family health conditions forced him to move out to Los Angeles, he set up a lucrative insurance business, partnering with banks to help them insure foreclosed properties. By having his ear to both the stock and housing markets, he was able to anticipate the Great Depression and come out the other side unscathed. In his later years, he was a heavy influence on the cultural life of Los Angeles, helping to increase its presence in the science research landscape.

It actually amazed me that a book about an insurance salesman would be this interesting. Abrahamson manages to impart the complexity of the insurance market of the mid-20th century with great skill. Following each of Ahmanson’s various ventures is a veritable clinic on how to effective manage a business. From lowly agent to head of several companies and a member of corporate boards, we see the rise of the savvy businessman who understood that hard work and a lot of leg work can ultimately bring about big rewards. A seemingly mundane but engaging book.