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The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession Audio, Cassette – Abridged, Audiobook

3.8 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the first chapter of his book The Power of Gold, Peter Bernstein quotes the immortal words of King Ferdinand of Spain, who once declared: "Get gold, humanely if possible, but at all hazards--get gold." As ensuing chapters reveal, man's obsession with finding, keeping, selling, and evaluating gold has rarely been a humane adventure and has always been a hazardous one. Digging deeply into history's treasury of torrid tales and complicated deals, Bernstein examines gold's lure with an economist's passion for quantification, a historian's eye for detail, and a sociologist's feel for its consequence.

Useless as a metal for most practical purposes, gold originally held value as decoration and adornment for the wealthy ancients. Later, it was minted and used as coins by the Lydians in 635 B.C. That, Bernstein goes on to reveal, put gold on a path from the concrete to the abstract, from evidence of wealth to the standard behind wealth in other forms, and finally to the tenuous place it holds in today's virtual world of credit cards and computer chips. Along the way lie wild stories of lives destroyed, fortunes won and quickly lost, and values transformed: the massacre by the Spanish invader Pizarro, whose small band of men decimated the formidable army of Emperor Atahualpa, "the Inca," through more duplicity than military skill; the roller-coaster ride of the 1890s, when the rippling impact of the Baring Brothers bank crisis in Britain sent the isolated United States into an economic meltdown; and the surplus of the Gold Coast natives of Timbuktu, who willingly traded their gold for much-needed salt, ounce for ounce.

Bernstein is a great storyteller. His accounts of mythological, ancient, and recent history ooze with odd and entertaining details that bring each successive tale of obsession to life. If not for his skill, the sheer volume of events collected here--presented more anecdotally than systematically--would be overwhelming. In the end, though, it is Bernstein's fascination with the power of gold to entangle and entrap its possessors, and its ultimate ability to change the course of entire eras and civilizations, that makes his book as fascinating as it is informative. A dense but entertaining read. --S. Ketchum --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"[T]he quest for gold" has been "gluttonous," says Bernstein, tracing the metal's impact on human myth and history: gold has inspired art, battles, conquests and discoveries, including Columbus's trip to the New World, where he hoped to secure enough gold to buy back the Holy Sepulcher from the Muslims. Bernstein makes clear the metal's virtues: it's so malleable that one ounce can be stretched into a 50-foot wire or pounded into 100 square feet, and it lasts forever (4,500-year-old Egyptian dental work, he notes, is good enough for today's mouths). Bernstein's gift for storytellingAwith just the right touch of acerbic wit (on the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, he summarizes, "The story does not have a happy ending, because Jason was a compulsive social climber")Aand his presentation of the paradox of how and why such a soft and simple metal has been afforded such value help make this work a winning account of human obsession, comprehensive, entertaining and enlightening. A knowledge of economics might help during the last third of the book, when Bernstein moves from ancient times to modern day and describes the economic chaos that followed WWI. By then gold was no longer the domain of legend; it had become a commodity, the standard against which powerful nations measure their wealth. But Bernstein, author of the bestselling Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, livens up his intricate economic discussion with tales such as the one about the Harvard Business School professor who got into trouble with his dean for withdrawing his gold from the Harvard Trust Company during a gold standard-related panic in 1933. As the title promises, Bernstein does deliver a page-turning history of the not-so-heavy metal and its influence on people through the ages. $250,000 ad/promo; first serial to Worth. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Abridged edition (October 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0641711670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0641711671
  • ASIN: 0375416080
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 1.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,815,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter L. Bernstein's nine books include the worldwide bestseller Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. Bernstein is also an economic consultant and publisher of Economics and Portfolio Strategy, a semimonthly letter for institutional investors.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
And an intersting read, but basically no more than a damnation of Gold itself.

The author delights, toward the end of the book , how wonderful it is to have been liberated from the shackles of the yellow metal. But one can't help but wonder if he sees the irony in the statement. The book itself is a collection of historical lessons that show the very same pattern he praises. Hard currency , perverted to fractional , inevitably fiat. The result is always the same. Massive increase in currency and punishing inflationary consequences. The author offers absolutely no argument as to why it should end differently this time. In fact , the author's tone is almost condescending as he reviews the history of Gold as money. Oh! Our generation and our economists and leaders are just ever so much smarter than their predecessors! Metal-backed currencies are characterized by the author as some quaint, antiquated ideal that constrained mankind. Yet I note in almost all cases where civilization deviated from the practice , the reason was War , and the consequence was inflation , speculation and eventually ruination. To see people, especially economists , ignore history , certainly a history as oft-repeated and essentially resulting in the same effect, is cringe-inducing.

The brave new world of Gold-as-jewlery and jewelry only remains to be seen. The price of both Gold and Silver have outperformed almost all other asset classes since the publication of the book , and there are rumblings of going back to a monetization of Silver in Mexico as I type.

It is easy for the economist to see, in hindsight, the folly of mankind. But I'll wager that Human nature has not changed as much as the author thinks.
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Format: Hardcover
The older edition (Aug 30, 2000) has more pages (448 instead of 304) but costs more ($39.00). Comparing the table of contents between the 2 editions, it appears that the first 14 chapters and 207 pages are identical between the two editions but the new 2004 illustrated edition may have discarded or condensed some of the later chapters. The older 2000 edition is still available from Amazon if you look further down in search results for this title.
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Format: Hardcover
It appears from the obvious publisher-placed comments that I may be one of the few people who has actually READ this book. With his no-doubt legions of researchers, Peter Bernstein obviously has his facts at hand, and they are plentifully strewn throughout the book. But this is not a business book, it is a history book about the enduring lure of the element Au. It took me about a week to finish this, and I found much of it interesting. But overall, I thought that it read like a well-researched thesis that will probably stand the test of time. There are some truly fascinating stories in it, and it is well written, but don't expect this book to tell you how to find gold or how to make enough money to buy gold. It is what it is: the history of a metal that has never lost its lustre.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Peter Bernstein has written an overview of the relationship between money and gold throughout the centuries. This book serves up many interesting stories of gold and its service as money or as a financing instrument. In this, the book entertains. However, I found it to be somewhat disjointed as it moved from place to place and time to time chasing the illustrious metal as it assumed its different forms in kingdoms and nations far and wide.
My sense after finishing the book was that it was somewhat incomplete -- and that the author could not precisely focus on what the books focus was. While he mentions the twin uses of gold -- both as money and adornment throughout the book, almost all of the tales and statistics are relating to monetary gold. Also, for much of the latter half of the book, his focus is on the development of banking and financial instruments -- and their replacement of gold as a medium of exchange and a source of finance. Perhaps a better title would have been "Money through the Ages" or something that reflected the breadth of the journey the reader takes while stopping briefly at various historical events involving gold, coin, money, banking, minting and finance.
Not to say that the book isn't informative or interesting for the most part -- it is. I learned many new anecdotes and information from the author -- much of it fascinating. For example, the "Great" Kublai Kahn printed money that was backed by his will only, centuries ago. And it worked; apparently fear of not accepting the Kahn's paper was enough to make it a working medium of exchange. The Bank of England resisted machine minting with raised edges for years after the technology was available, even though the country was losing a fortune to clippers and shavers of hand stamped coin.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Bernstein skeptically sees gold as overrated and as potentially harmful. Think of this book as "The Tragedy of Obsession with Gold" as the story line. As Mr. Bernstein puts it, "This book tells the story of how people have become intoxicated, obsessed, haunted, and humbled over pieces of metal called gold."
To make that point, the book begins with a story that Ruskin told about a man who is on a sinking ship with his gold. He gets the gold and jumps overboard, and drowns from the weight of the gold. Mr. Bernstein cites the analogy throughout the book for the fate that awaits those who are committed to their gold. The gold has them, rather than vice versa.
Mr. Bernstein does a nice job of creating an on-going story line to put the role of gold in perspective. Gold first makes its appearance as an adornment for religious or personal purposes. This application leads to gold becoming used as money. Then gold helps create trade that only money can provide. From the trade comes power, and that power expands influence. Then as the world economy outgrows the supply of gold as a monetary stock, gold becomes a brake on economic growth. At the end of the book, gold is again turning into an adornment having been cut loose from being a reserve for the monetary stock. In this context, the book is about the rise and fall of the gold-based empire. That tale is best captured in the story of how little the gold from the Americas helped Spain economically. If a shortage of gold as money can slow down economic growth, an excess of gold can create inflation in general prices. That's the essence of Mr. Bernstein's argument about gold as a mercantile asset.
Economic history is rarely so interestingly told, and Mr.
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