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

by Niall Ferguson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,704523,636 (3.67)41
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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» See also 41 mentions

English (50)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
This Niall Ferguson fellow speaks of money and it's history. I thought it would go more into that, but really, there isn't much to say. It covers some parts of the recent housing crisis, but it doesn't really cover what happened after since this book was published in 2007.

It's pretty interesting, but it wasn't quite what I expected. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
The anecdotal aspects of the book were appreicated, but obviously not conclusive. The financial theory remained just of out of reach and I often felt lost, or that I was being sold something. Despite my interior antipathies, I have always liked Ferguson. the accompanying PBS film challenged that devotion, but alas I plowed through the book with a dusting of enlightenment, which is all I hoped for, anyway. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
The subtitle of the book "A Financial History of the World" is something of a misnomer, though Ferguson (also the author of a two-volume history of the Rothschild family) does cover quite a bit of ground, in time and space, discussing how money evolved, and then how other kinds of financial transactions (stocks, bonds, derivatives) evolved. In fact, there's quite a lot of discussion relating financial products to natural evolution. One interesting thing about the book (at least the hardcover edition) is that it came out in the early summer of 2008, before the crash that hit the financial markets later that year. There are a number of hints in the book that Ferguson (among others) saw something coming, though it's questionable whether he saw the crash. Generally, a pretty light read, and Ferguson does a decent job of explaining some abstruse terms in a more comprehensible fashion. For those interested, he tends to be lightly critical of the capitalist model; this is not an analysis from the left, a la Piketty. Those of you who are concerned about the angle an author takes, be warned. I did like the book, and do recommend it. ( )
  EricCostello | Sep 18, 2018 |
This is a nice survey of the world of finance. It's a collection of stories - lots of crashes, of course, starting with John Law in the 18th Century. We get to watch the Rothschilds get rich in the 19th Century. The timing of the book was a bit awkward - it seems he was writing in May of 2008. He did say that credit default swaps looked like a looming problem - itsn't that what brought down Lehman Brothers in October?

The main problem with the book is that it doesn't have a thesis. It's a bunch of evidence that doesn't really go anywhere. The lack of evidence means that there is no real analysis of the evidence - there is no need to push down to the real nuts and bolts details. So the whole thing is a kind of broad brush survey without any solid substance. ( )
2 vote kukulaj | Aug 11, 2018 |
The author reviews the history of money and finance through the ages. A little too detailed in some areas for me, but some interesting points. ( )
  addunn3 | Oct 14, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Niall Fergusonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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