I have four reviews, which I'll give in order from most to least positive. I apologize for the length.
John Lanchester's review in the New Yorker ("Melting into air," November 10, 2008, p. 80-84) is actually an article discussing several books that predicted our current economic problems. He gives one paragraph to "Bad money," and it's positive. Lanchester calls the book a "map of how we got here" and a "powerful account."
Barry Gewen in the New York Times ("What ails the American economy? Everything, and there's worse to come," April 21, 2008, p. E7) is also mostly positive, but criticises Phillips for giving only the most pessimistic analysis; and for relying on dubious historical comparisons, but concludes by saying that Phillips's warnings have to be taken seriously.
Daniel Gross in the New York Times Book Review ("Riches to rags," August 3, 2008, p. 17) has more to criticize. He does say that Phillips is an "entertaining writer," but doesn't buy Phillips's version about how the government has deliberately helped to inflate an economic bubble -- Gross thinks such an account gives government officials too much credit. He accuses Phillips of blaming every unfortunate outcome on "the corrupting influence of finance" when other reasonable explanations exist. Finally, Gross says that Phillips unjustifiably extrapolates current trends indefinitely into the future: "Phillips thinks the bubble ... will continue unabated, when in fact it's already popped."
The most negative review is from Robert M. Solow -- a professor of economics at MIT and Nobel Prizewinner -- in the New Republic ("Getting it wrong," September 10, 2008, p. 32-35). "The only nice thing I can say about Bad Money," he writes, "is that taking a critical aim at our complex, overblown, and now evidently dangerous financial system is a fine idea. The trouble is that Kevin Phillips stays throughout at the superficial level of Chicken Little." And there end the kind words. Solow proceeds to an historical explanation of Gresham's Law ("Bad money drives out good money"), and laments that Phillips never explains what the Law has to do with his thesis. From there it's downhill: Phillips complains about finance being too large a part of our GDP but never says what size would be better. Phillips ignores the useful functions performed by the financial system. Phillips misrepresents statistics: "Phillips does not seem to understand what a consumer price index is."
But Solow saves his heaviest scorn for Phillips's worries about a weakening dollar. He acknowledges that it is a common habit to treat the high exchange value of one's currency as a matter of national pride, and that Phillips "identifies the role of the dollar as being some sort of index of American masculinity." But he argues for a more rational view, saying that a declining dollar "is not as big a deal as it may seem." In particular, he says that Phillips has completely misread the purpose of China's dollar reserves, whose purpose is not to defend the Yen but rather to prevent its exchange value from rising.
I'll say this: Solow is certainly a better writer than Phillips. Still, I can't shake the feeling that Phillips is on to something, and if I were to pick a review that most resonated with my own reading, it would be Daniel Gross's.
Barry Gewen's and Daniel Gross's reviews are freely available online, though I don't know whether these links will work. If not just enter a search at the New York Times website.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/books ... omy&st=cse
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/books ... ags&st=cse