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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of…

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008)

by Niall Ferguson

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Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
This book complains to be a financial history of the world but is neither very interesting nor very comprehensive. I found it disappointing. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 25, 2016 |
Are you tired of financial news? The past years have provided a continuing stream of financial problems from the United States and around the world. It might be time to update your news perspective by looking at lessons learned from history. "The Ascent of Money" by economist, historian and author, Niall Ferguson, gives an alternative view of the historical antecedents of financial transactions that play into today's news.

"The Ascent of Money - A Financial History of the World" uses financial history as the backdrop for human progress, innovation, and change over the centuries. A simple definition of money as "the medium for exchange" is only the beginning of the story. The big story is neatly summarized by the author on page 341: "Today's financial world is the result of four millennia of economic evolution. Money - the crystallized relationship between debtor and creditor - begat banks, clearing houses for ever larger aggregations of borrowing and lending. From the thirteenth century onwards, government bonds introduced the securitization of streams of interest payments; while bond markets revealed the benefits of regulated public markets for trading and pricing securities. From the seventeenth century, equity in corporations could be bought and sold in similar ways.

From the eighteenth century, insurance funds and then pension funds exploited economies of scale and the laws of averages to provide financial protection against calculable risk. From the nineteenth, futures and options offered more specialized and sophisticated instruments: the first derivatives. And, from the twentieth, households were encouraged, for political reasons, to increase leverage and skew their portfolios in favour of real estate."

I found the historical trek through financial history, wars, booms, bubbles, and busts a fascinating read. From explorers seeking gold and silver in South America, banking to enable Italian trade with China, bond markets to finance wars, stock markets to finance expansion, inflation and money supply growth, and on to the present day real estate and sub prime mortgages there is a story that ties financial transactions and history together. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Solid book about the world of finance but I doubt I'm alone in suspecting that the majority of his energies go into the accompanying tv shows. This seemed a well-researched companion piece to the Channel 4 series but nothing more. ( )
1 vote Mikey23 | Oct 23, 2015 |
Very dense with information. Dry as hell. ( )
1 vote RonHer | Oct 11, 2015 |
I'm recommending we require all Eco/Fin majors by this and that we use chapters of it for all the appropriate classes. PBS has also made a documentary of it, so it'd be like using Commanding Heights.

Ferguson is a professor of history and business administration at Harvard. The book is indeed a history of finance and a history of the (Western) world through the lens of financial evolution. Published mid-2008, it gives a great overview of how we got to our current financial crisis and similarities to previous crises.

From the invention of fiat money causing the French Revolution, to microfinance combating poverty today, Ferguson does a great job tying everything together. In latter chapters he quotes (but also challenges) others I've read over the years, like Joe Stiglitz and Thomas Perkins. He also hails the merits of behavior finance and decries the "short-term capital mismanagement" of the quants at LTCM in the 90s.

Superbly done. 4.5 stars out of 5. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
...The rise of ancient Babylon was intimately tied to the evolution of credit and debt; without banks and the bond markets, the splendours of the Italian Renaissance would never have materialised; corporate finance was the foundation of the Dutch and later British empires; the ultra-sophisticated Wall Street financial engineering which has now come crashing down is intractably linked with America's global primacy. And now, of course, the new-found geopolitical power of many emerging economies, such as China, comes from their embrace of modern finance and creation of huge sovereign wealth funds.

Especially fascinating is Ferguson's discussion of the rush of intellectual innovation, beginning in the 1660s, that created the theoretical basis for life insurance, one of the most important financial inventions of all time...
...According to Ferguson, much of the current crisis stems from this increasingly uneasy symbiosis. It turns out “there was a catch. The more China was willing to lend to the United States, the more Americans were willing to borrow.” This cascade of easy money, he argues, “was the underlying cause of the surge in bank lending, bond issuance and new derivative contracts that Planet Finance witnessed after 2000. . . . And Chimerica — or the Asian ‘savings glut,’ as Ben Bernanke called it — was the underlying reason why the U.S. mortgage market was so awash with cash in 2006 that you could get a 100 percent mortgage with no income, no job or assets.” Going forward, the system seems likely to be increasingly unstable, as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson suggested recently when he warned that unless fundamental changes are made, “the pressure from global imbalances will simply build up again until it finds another outlet.”
...Ferguson's biography of finance, told with verve and insight, throws more light on our predicament than perhaps even he realises. The Ascent of Money charts the rise of money from clay tokens passed around the villages of Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago to flickering numbers on a foreign exchange screen; yet it also reminds us that money represents a relationship of trust.

Ferguson argues persuasively that the development of money has gone hand in hand with the development of modern societies, by quickening transactions, loans and investment. He gives a selection of case studies, showing how money underpinned the colonisation of South America, Roosevelt's New Deal and the rise of China. Money doesn't make the world go round, but "it does make staggering quantities of people, goods and services go around the world"...
added by amorabunda | editThe Telegraph (Nov 6, 2008)
Niall Ferguson has written a brilliant book exploring the historic nexus between money, diplomacy, warfare and globalisation. It's called The House of Rothschild: The World's Banker 1849-1998. His new work, The Ascent of Money, written 10 years later, is an altogether different beast.

From its opening sentence - 'Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: call it what you like, money matters' - you know this is a TV tie-in...
...There are a score of fascinating details. One example is how John Law managed to persuade the French to appoint him controller general of finances (sort of governor of the Bank of England and Chancellor of the Exchequer combined) and allow him to engineer the French financial bubble in 1720-21 that did far greater damage to French savings than the South Sea Bubble did to British finances at the same time. He describes how grand families, such as the Grevilles, were ruined by spendthrift heirs, while other new dynasties, notably the Rothschilds, were founded on a mixture of thrift, information and acumen.

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the book is Ferguson's ability to link the past with the present – particularly helpful right now. For example, he draws a parallel between international investment during the last great burst of globalisation from 1870 to 1914 and the massive international capital flows of the present global era...

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Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal,: call it what you like, money matters -- Introduction
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Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals. To Christians, love of it is the root of all evil. To generals, it's the sinews of war. To revolutionaries, it's the chains of labor. But historian Ferguson shows that finance is in fact the foundation of human progress. What's more, he reveals financial history as the essential backstory behind all history. Through Ferguson's expert lens, for example, the civilization of the Renaissance looks very different: a boom in the market for art and architecture made possible when Italian bankers adopted Arabic mathematics. The rise of the Dutch republic is reinterpreted as the triumph of the world's first modern bond market over insolvent Habsburg absolutism. Yet the central lesson of financial history is that, sooner or later, every bubble bursts.--From publisher description.… (more)

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