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Customer Review

129 of 146 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable and engaging, November 14, 2008
This review is from: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Hardcover)
Historian Niall Ferguson teaches economic history at Harvard so he certainly has credentials for a book like this. While his historical knowledge is impressive his financial claims can seem a bit cavalier and broad-sweeping.

Ferguson celebrates financiers as the source of modern wealth and prosperity. He backs up his claim by a historical examination of the last 500 years. This includes the Italians in the late Middle Ages, as well as the Dutch in the 17th century and Britain's empire success which he partially attributes to the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694.

After setting the historical context Ferguson becomes a pundit on the current global situation. Commenting on those who speculate in the financial markets today Ferguson writes, "When people have a run of luck, they very quickly impute this to their own brilliance. Once you start interpreting your good fortune as your skill, you're very quickly a master of the universe who can never fall. That, of course, is precisely when you fall." He likens financiers to gamblers, which may not be a completely fair connection. Of course there is risk involved in investing, but the primary concern in the financial world is how to limit that risk, react wisely, and be patient.

As Ferguson considers the financial crises his assessment is neither overly positive nor calamitous. "Before this crisis," Ferguson says, "there were people who thought there would never be another recession--that kind of crazy, myopic, unhistorical belief. That was followed in the last month or so by wild panic, as if it's the end of the world."

Ferguson states the obvious when he declares we will all be affected by the current financial mess, and that it will take a while for the market to correct itself.

In short, if you like history more than finance, this is going to be an enjoyable book for you. However, if it's the other way around the details might be suffocating.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2008 8:46:04 PM PST
Daniel Davy says:
Don't you mean, in your last paragraph, "if you like finance more than history...."? In the context you have established you seem to have reversed these concepts, as the "suffocating details" are presumably financial, and thus primarily of interest to financial types, not to history buffs.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2008 7:49:40 AM PST
John Zxerce says:
No, the details are not financial, but historical.

Posted on Nov 23, 2008 11:51:44 AM PST
doc peterson says:
An example of the principles Ferguson apparently shows are in Taleb's _Fooled by Randomness_. Taleb embodies not only the arrogrance of a financial trader, but also comments at length on the self-congratulatory egotism so common when things go well, without really recognizing how very little financial gurus had to do with their own success. Good review.

Posted on Nov 24, 2008 12:31:53 PM PST
VK says:
History tends to repeat itself and so it is valuable to learn a lesson from, especially if it about finances.

Posted on Nov 24, 2008 5:11:44 PM PST
Caught his C-SPAN Book Review talk with a no-C-span interviewer at 2 AM I was so fascinated that I stayed awake for the next hour.

Posted on Oct 26, 2012 8:28:09 AM PDT
Reader says:
"Of course there is risk involved in investing, but the primary concern in the financial world is how to limit that risk, react wisely, and be patient."

I agree that is the supposed primary concern of financiers but when there is no downside and they get their bonuses in any case (or at most a slap on the wrist) that changes the equation.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 22, 2013 4:14:44 AM PDT
W. Weaver says:
Taleb embodies the least of that arrogance though - he admits that success in his type of business is all about optionality, rather than intelligence. Read his latest book, Antifragile.

Posted on May 10, 2014 9:40:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2014 9:42:11 PM PDT
Big Blue Sky says:
Niall Ferguson likes to forget about the importance of education and that without literacy and other social programs the other things that come from it will not happen. Even if he will claim that it is a given need, he needs to mention it as one of the stepping stones. He tries to portray everything as a simple formula for success that we need to deregulate things and that the state gets it wrong more often then the market. When the devil is in the detail and we examine things more closely there are no free markets. We see constant market manipulation and monopolistic practices. These tendencies need to be solved but yet again these things are overlooked. In the end monopolies are not always bad and market manipulation to put a stop on the collapse of markets is a good thing.

Then in this day and age with computers and the internet we see financial literacy problems and the schools graduating people who can't spell or do math in their head. You need a good foundation and sadly the education technology seems to be lacking or even dismissed as unimportant for the masses. The social programs done by earlier times set up many of the countries to become a success. He does not dwell enough on the Narcissism in accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. This is why Karl max and communism came about in the first place because of the atrocious disgusting accumulation of wealth by any means possible for a few and today we see the household income going backward and the middle class becoming the new peasantry. He never looks at the disgusting mumbo jumbo the banks feed the masses to extract extra fees and other hidden fees. We see this mumbo jumbo problem as a way to relegate responsibility away in politics.
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