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Double Entry: How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world - and how their invention could make or break the planet [Kindle Edition]

Jane Gleeson-White
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

'The rise and metamorphosis of double-entry bookkeeping is one of history's best-kept secrets and most important untold tales ... Through its logic we have let the planet go to ruin-and through its logic we now have a chance to avert that ruin.'

Our world is governed by the numbers generated by the accounts of nations and corporations. We depend on these numbers to direct our governments, organisations, economies, societies. But where did they come from-and how did they become so powerful?

The answer to these questions begins in the Dark Ages, with the emergence in northern Italy of a new form of accounting called double-entry bookkeeping. The story of double entry reaches from the Crusades through the Renaissance to the factories of industrial Britain and the policymakers of the Great Depression and the Second World War. At its heart stands a Renaissance monk, mathematician and magician, and his celebrated treatise for merchants. With double entry came the wealth and cultural efflorescence that was the Renaissance, a new scientific worldview, and a new economic system: capitalism.

Over the past one hundred years accounting has flourished to an astonishing degree, despite the many scandals it has left in its wake. The figures double entry generates have become a sophisticated system of numbers which in the twenty-first century rules the global economy, manipulated by governments, financial institutions and the quant nerds of Wall Street.

And the story of double entry is still unfolding-because today it might be our last hope for life on earth.

Editorial Reviews


“A stimulating approach that presents a compelling outline for further detailed review.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Starred review. ...[L]ively and elegantly written account of the history of double-entry bookkeeping.... This dynamic examination of the impact and legacy of double-entry bookkeeping is sure to appeal to those in the accounting profession, business leaders, and history buffs, and will likely become required reading in business school curricula.” (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Jane Gleeson-White is the author of Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance, which won the 2012 Waverley Library Award for Literature. Gleeson-White has degrees in economics and literature from the University of Sydney.

Product Details

  • File Size: 756 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393088960
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (October 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005ZLZJ46
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,048 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Interesting April 3, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
I quite enjoyed reading this. The author does a good job in writing a lively and accessible book about what many might consider to be a somewhat dry subject.

I particularly liked the historical background. Some of it was truly fascinating. I hadn't realised that Pacioli was such a distinguished mathematician. It was fascinating to read the influence that double entry book keeping has had and how without it some have speculated that there might have been no "capitalism". There were some great details about Marx and Engels.

There are chapters on National Income accounts, scandals and criticism of accountancy and in particular audits. The final chapter on environmental accounting was very informative.

I am a qualified accountant and I think that I would have liked to have read more about the history of the profession. Other people might well like more explanations of accounting terms.

In a way I think that this book might attempt to do too much and the treatment of some subjects is a little shallow.

However despite these reservations I felt that I did learn a few things from this book and it was generally pretty interesting and it all seemed to be accurate.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem May 12, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Double Entry
How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world - and how their invention could make or break the planet
by Jane Gleeson - White

This book is a gem! Dusty old "double entry accounting" is threaded together with stories of Renaissance Venice, its merchants and scholarly discoveries, development of capitalism, national GDP, and accounting for environmental damage.

After a shaky start resurrecting Senator Robert Kennedy, the scene moves on cue to medieval Pisa, Genoa, Florence and Venice. There the Franciscan monk Luca Pacioli, mathematician, chess-player, and encylopedist inadvertently immortalized himself as the "father" of double-entry bookkeeping.

Luca Pacioli made significant mathematical discoveries, taught Leonardo da Vinci, and in particular wrote a mathematical encyclopedia in 1494 allocating 27 pages to a bookkeeping treatise that bestowed him glory to this day. This was only a small part of Pacioli's work in "Summa de Arithmetica, geometria, proportione et proportionalità" or "Everything about Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion, and Proportionality" plus other works including an unpublished treatise on chess which was rediscovered in 2006.

A brilliant intertwined history of merchants and mathematics is presented from Mesopotamian tablets and ancient Greek mathematics through to the Hindu-Arabic numerals and the new style bookkeeping. The dark arts of Egyptian priests and the commercial activities of early merchants triggered Augustine's warning that "The good Christian should beware of mathematics ... a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell". The author successfully combines "the calculations used by merchants ...
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves - debit and credit. May 9, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a fine, well researched (if short) history of double-entry bookkeeping. I was aware of some of the history of the practice before I read it, but this filled the history out to the early 1500s nicely. The chapters on the European adoption of the Indian / Arabic numbers out of the Roman and medieval numbering systems, the evolution of the double-entry system of bookkeeping and the early impact of double-entry were all good reading - and well written. It seems well-aimed at the students of the profession and is the most readable history of this subject I have yet read.

There were two disappointments, though. Firstly I would have liked the author to stick to the actual subject, and write a lot more on the development of bookkeeping from Pacioli through to the improvements, refinements and the development of modern accounting over the last century. A mention of Henry Rand Hatfield or Sir David Tweedie for example might have helped. Covering the modern innovation of legally enforceable standards would have helped more. Pointing out the errors that accountants sometimes make should not be the sole focus of this entire time period.
Instead, and secondly, what was there in the middle to end chapters was a discussion of how economists have obtained some of the data that the bookkeepers and accountants produce and added those to other numbers to create figures for politicians and economists to use to try to manage economies. Quite rightly, the author points out that this process is not necessarily likely to be useful, and can be harmful. How exactly this fits in with double-entry bookkeeping I am not sure. The author seems to be trying to justify some of the hype on the front cover, rather than providing a history of the practice and profession.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but flawed January 14, 2013
By rico567
Format:Kindle Edition
I enjoyed reading Double Entry, but Gleeson-White's treatment deserved more time in the writing, and a more comprehensive view of certain areas of the bookkeeping transformation that is the central point of the work.
The subject matter is a crucial one in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world, and Gleeson-White incorporates not only the title subject (Venetian double-entry bookkeeping), but also the revolutions in mathematics generally, printing, art, and trade.
As a means of providing a more comprehensive view of the Renaissance, the book is laudable, but her views are biased. She is very repetitive in her emphasis of the origins of the Hindu-Islamic number system adopted in the West- space in the book that could have been used for other things.
An example of this is in her treatment of the printing revolution. The author emphasizes the economics of printing, and how this could help Fra Pacioli's text on mathematics be distributed throughout Europe much more rapidly than through expensive, tediously copied manuscripts. She also correctly emphasizes the importance of printing in mathematics and the scientific revolution that followed. But she curiously omits one of the most seminal parts of the printing revolution- the confidence inherent in the printed page. A given edition of Erasmus' In Praise of Folly, once printed, contains exactly the same words in every copy. Contrast the ability to refer to given page and line numbers by readers and scholars across Europe, and know they were reading exactly the same text, with the previous manuscript system, where copies of a given work were never identical in detail, and might actually differ in important respects. In short, the world pre-printing was a world of forgeries, where a given document could inspire little confidence. After Gutenberg, all was changed.

My conclusion: a good, readable book, but it could have been much better. Three stars.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Credit History, Debit Tangents
This is not so much a book as it is a three-part effort involving two history lessons connected by a tenuous thread, and an essay advocating environmental causes that even... Read more
Published 2 months ago by ArizonianaLLC
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very meandering.
Published 2 months ago by Rufus Calder
5.0 out of 5 stars Glimpsing the soul of Double Entry
I have a close friend that alerted me to the importance of Double Entry Bookkeeping (DEB) in society six years ago. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andrew Maffei
2.0 out of 5 stars It was a rather dry read. The first part ...
It was a rather dry read. The first part of the book focused on history of the development and adoption of double entry. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Linda M. French
5.0 out of 5 stars In Silicon Valley they like to say "You can't manage what you can't...
A fascinating book, very well researched and well written. In Silicon Valley they like to say "You can't manage what you can't measure. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Michael
3.0 out of 5 stars About That Augustine Quote
A cursory internet search casts doubt on the translation and purported meaning of the quote from Augustine regarding the dangers of mathematics (see p. 35). Read more
Published 7 months ago by D. Touey
3.0 out of 5 stars A book with a surprising ending
The author begins the book with a number of chapters which give a historical backdrop for beginnings and growth of accounting. Read more
Published 8 months ago by PlatoFromTexas
3.0 out of 5 stars A book as muddled as Enron’s financial statements
I thought this book was going to be right up my alley. My manager gave it to me as a Christmas gift this year (I hadn’t heard of it before). Read more
Published 8 months ago by T. Graczewski
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Perspective!
Great history lesson and insight into financial measurement. Good read for anyone to better understand how all things work in this world.
Published 8 months ago by Francis J. Ostlund
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
Outstanding book. Well researched and written. A must for anyone interested in the historic relationship between art and accounting. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Rich
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