- Hardcover: 442 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594201927
- ISBN-13: 978-1594201929
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (395 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Hardcover – Illustrated, November 13, 2008
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Niall Ferguson makes a strong, compelling case for the development of money and banking as a catalyst for the advancement of civilization. Yet while some critics praised his clear, comprehensible writing, punctuated with anecdotes and historical details, others were nonplussed by his explanations and narrative detours. Several critics also bemoaned the book's choppy and uneven structure—an echo of the episodic, six-part television series it was meant to accompany. So it seems the UK critics liked the book less because they had seen the show. Though perhaps best suited to readers with a fundamental understanding of financial terms and theories, Ferguson's latest work provides valuable insight into the inner workings of the global economy, past and present. For interested readers, it demonstrates how our current fiscal meltdown fits into the bigger historical picture and laments humanity's perennial inability to learn from this history.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
*Starred Review* British historian Ferguson follows Empire (2003), his provocative take on British history, and his equally provocative take on the American “empire” in Colossus (2004), with a not so much provocative as fresh look at the history of money and its ramifications on how modern life has evolved, since to him “money is the root of most progress.” One of his basic premises cannot be argued with: most people in the English-speaking world are woefully ignorant of things financial. To that end, Ferguson, in his desire to educate the general public, presents the history of money within these contexts: the rise of money and the history of credit, and the histories of the bond market, the stock market, insurance, the real-estate market, and international finance. There is an ease to his prose that leaves this complicated subject interesting to and approachable by any general reader. For the history and social-science side of the public library business collection. --Brad Hooper
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Top Customer Reviews
The world’s first coins were minted in the Greek empire in what is now Turkey, about 2,600 years ago. As it happens, as I write this, I have a 2,300-year-old Greek silver coin that I wear around my neck. It has a bee on the obverse and a deer on the reverse. It was minted at Ephesus in Anatolia 300 years before the Apostle John lived there and wrote his world-changing Gospel. Money has ancient roots and its rise is inextricably intertwined with the rise of human civilization, and Prof. Ferguson explores the entire grand story in this compelling, engaging and superbly readable history.
Ferguson has a remarkable and rare ability to take a difficult and even abstruse subject like the history of money and make it fascinatingly intelligible, even entertaining. This impressive book began life as a television series for Channel 4 in the UK and on PBS in the U.S. It draws to a close as the appalling Great Recession of 2008 is getting under way in earnest, a coincidence that underscores why understanding money and how it flows through the tissues and sinews of the global economy, is time well spent and of the first importance.
Ferguson begins with the earliest forms of money and the origins of banking, then moves on to bonds and the creation of debt structures. After that comes a fascinating chapter on bubbles and on the rise of insurance to ameliorate risk. These are followed by chapters on real estate and the massive modern globalization trends that have created the bipolar financial world that he calls Chimerica, organized around the enormous economies of China and the US. It sounds rather dry to list the chapter topics this way, but each is told in fascinating detail and with a lively anecdotal wit that keep the subject from getting anywhere near the tedious mark. One criticism: Ferguson’s afterword should have been an opportunity for a brilliant look-back on the financial crisis of 2008, but instead it is a rather rambling discourse on whether markets are truly evolutionary. It lacks the acuity and clarity of the rest of the book and would better have been left out, I thought. But this is a small flaw in an otherwise very impressive and perfectly comprehensive summary of where money comes from and why understanding its ascent is important to each one of us.
Note: this book is not without its critics, particularly among Economists, who can be a cantankerous lot with a wide variety of political viewpoints. The book succeeds as a historical narrative and does not lay claim to technical economic exposition.
Ferguson has the ability to open up the broad sweep of history with easy terms and lots of facts to portray a clear picture. The pertinent statistics that abound in his narrative are particularly helpful in clarifying the history and impact of money. Beginning with money lenders in ancient Mesopotamia (a beginning form of credit) the author shows us how the ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of mankind.
The ascent of money is described as an evolutionary process with development throughout history of new mediums of exchange. Capital mutations bring about the creation of new markets and new products, which are created by a system under capitalism, which provides growth in the monetary system to accommodate economic growth and expansion of the population. One example of the ongoing change in the world of business and technology that is cited: of the 100 largest private companies in the year 1919 only 29 remained in the top 100 by the year 2000.
The author shows us the development of new tools in the supply of money from barter systems to using commodities as money, to the first coins in the Mediterranean region (600BC), to the Inca Empire which had no money (presumably applauded by Karl Marx but not John Lennon), to precious metals backed by coinage in the era of Pizarro, to the introduction of banking systems with the Medici Empire in 15th Century Florence, to the introduction of stocks, bonds, insurance, and international money markets, and to the subprime mortgage debacle.
Within the narrative we get the broad sweep of many of the greatest economists including Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludvig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Karl Marx, Frank Knight, JM Keynes, and Milton Friedman.
The Author asserts that the basis of money is TRUST. National currencies therefore float in value compared to other currencies depending upon international confidence and expected stability. Credit also is dependent upon the commitment that loans will be repaid. According to the author with other things being equal, more “money” only increases prices and does not enrich a nation.
One theory espoused by a number of individuals in popular discourse is the world would be better off if there were no money! The author does not refute this argument directly, perhaps assuming that his readers are schooled in basic economics. Economic history teaches that in a culture where there is no money, a monetary system is created in order that goods and services can be exchanged between individuals. Only if no item in the culture has any value would there be no need for money. If anything, perhaps the life of an individual, does have value then there would arise the desire for a monetary system in order to protect or exchange the items of value between individuals. Ferguson does mention the “no money” topic regarding both Karl Marx and the Inca civilization. Little is known about the Inca Empire except that its time of prosperity was very short. Marxism seemed to flourish during the first half of the twentieth century but seemed to collapse by the end of the century, with many formerly Communist or socialist nations moving back toward widespread property rights and capitalism.
For anyone that is willing to admit to themselves that they don't understand the significance of central bank interest rates, the importance of bond yields, how insurance premiums are calculated, or why defaulting on a mortgage can effect municipalities in Iceland; this is the book for you.
Beyond simple definitional explanations, I especially appreciate the historical context that is given to the creation of these pillars of the financial world.
If nothing else, now I can now read the Wall Street Journal without feeling like an idiot. And in the words of a famous groundskeeper: "So I got that going for me...which is nice."