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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  14,931 Ratings  ·  1,021 Reviews
Watch the PBS program based on The Ascent of Money.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 on what he calls Planet Finance.

Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: Call it what you like, it matters. To Christians, love of it is
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published November 13th 2008 by Penguin Press (first published November 2007)
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Riku Sayuj

Imperialism: The Darwinian Justification

Ferguson contends that today’s financial world is the result of four millennia of economic evolution. It is very important to the aims of this book that this metaphor is accepted. Ferguson looks at this evolution of money into the complicated financial ecosystem of today. He explores how money mutated into new tools/organisms and acquired characteristics that allowed it to meet the needs of its users/demands of its environment better. The tools that help
Jun 02, 2009 Michael rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: those ruined by any sort of market discontinuity
Yay for empire!

Another book from the vaguely centrist right, you know them, those economists and Greek translators and philosophers from the University of Chicago who assisted Pinochet in his fascist coup, won Nobel Prizes, misconstrued Plato to fit their world-view (I'm looking at you, Leo Strauss), and finally, today, when they are primarily involved in teaching a new generation to do the same things.

Well, Ferguson perhaps isn't so vehemently rabid about his political beliefs, and he doesn't
Marc Weidenbaum
The book is titled The Ascent of Money, but it's not about the ascent of money. It's about the path of money, with the assumption that from the origin of the book's historical perspective, money has been the bedrock of civilization. There's no ascendancy, because there is nothing for it to compete with, in the author's telling. What the book really is is a straight history of the above-board financial markets, and to that extent it's a useful and largely enjoyable read, covering the move from ba ...more
Dec 03, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it
Ferguson is known as an economic historian yet his last few books were almost purely historical, with only brief passages on the economic aspects of historical events. Here, Ferguson returns to telling about, well, not so much economics as the evolution of finance. First money, then banks, then bonds, then equities, derivatives, insurance, and finally the causes of the recent credit crunch are explained and developed in simple and clear prose. Unlike 'War of the World' - a mammoth retelling of t ...more
Jan Rice
Oct 13, 2015 Jan Rice rated it liked it

Contemplating the title of this book, my first thought was that it was by a person of the political left, maybe not the Pope, but an anti-capitalist and moralizer on the all-around evil of the financial system.

"No," said the person who recommended it to me; "He's center right."

So, then I saw the title as deriving from the bad-boy mentality of the author, thumbing his nose at such views. The author has his own intended reference--to The Ascent of Man, a TV series by Jacob Bronowski that impacted
Sep 17, 2009 Trevor rated it liked it
Life has a habit of proving me wrong. Recently I wrote a review of The Drunkard's Walk How Randomness Rules Our Lives and said something like you generally get a better understanding of a subject if you can see the historical path that has been followed in building the subject in the first place. This book is all historical path, but it has left me without a clearer understanding of what I had hoped to learn from it.

And this is a pity, as there are many things about money I would like a deeper u
Sep 21, 2016 Cici rated it really liked it
"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance".
Cicero - 55 BC

So what have we learned in 2 Millennia? Evidently nothing?

Ferguson argued that financial markets are like the mirror of mankind, revealing the works of how we function in
Sep 25, 2010 Stephen rated it really liked it
4.0 stars. I am a big fan of Niall Ferguson and this book certainly added to my appreciation for both his skill as a writer and his knowledge of history, especially financial history. After spending the early portion of the book on the history and development of currency, this book becomes a brief look at the origins and development of the major financial institutions (banks, commodity exchanges, hedge funds, insurance companies) and categories of assets (bonds, stocks, real property, options an ...more
Jun 09, 2009 Tao rated it really liked it
This is a very readable and enjoyable financial history for a layman like me. Like most of the members of the general public, generally I have no interest in financial history, considering it complicated, mundane, boring and dry. However, the recently financial meltdown piqued my interest on this topic.

This book described the development of modern finance and banking system, staring from Renaissance Italy, the Medici family, the rising of the Rothschild family after the Waterloo, all the way do
Dec 20, 2013 David rated it did not like it
The "Ascent of Money" had a subtle right-wing/conservative bent to the point that as the events became more recent, I found more and more questionable "facts" and right-wing "talking points". For example, as a follower of Paul Krugman's economics blog, I know at least one thing Ferguson says about him is a lie that has been perpetuated by certain Republicans. And his analysis of the recent (2007) mortgage/housing crisis is factually incorrect although is a common version reported by conservative ...more
I was listening to this audiobook on a CD player, and my husband said, "Is a man with a plummy English accent explaining the plot of Mary Poppins to you?" (Yes. You may not remember the part where the little boy wants tuppence to feed the pigeons and inadvertently triggers a bank run.)

Harvard history professor explains the origins of not only coins, paper money, and electronic money, but also stocks, bonds, and insurance. (Bonds and insurance are way more important than I had realized.) Very hel
Roger Cottrell
I was recently referred to this book by Goodreads friend Roz, who didn't know that I'd already read it. For those who don't know Ferguson he's a prolific but right wing historian who is a regular face on British TV's channel 4 with series like EMPIRE, AMERICAN COLLOSUS and THE THIRD WORLD WAR. I don't agree with Ferguson's project, particularly his defence of Thatcher, but his histories pose important questions even though they lack a central Marxist focus on class. Ergo, attempts by many Left w ...more
Josh Friedlander
Jun 17, 2015 Josh Friedlander rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Most people - or at least me (I?) - know this guy as a purveyor of some outrageous opinions (Keynes was wrong, because he was gay, or something?) and partisan talking points, and his questionable approach to fact-checking was recently highlighted by Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. Still, with one exception (an arch criticism of the excesses of the welfare state, and their putative role in the stagflation of the '70s), this is a surprisingly balanced, entertaining and illuminating history of ...more
Money does not make the world go round, but it does make staggering quantities of people, goods and services go around the world.

Money ....Money ...Money....

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, examines long history of money, credit, and banking. Since this book is all about history don’t think it’s dry and unreadable... it very readable, interesting and with substance. The most interesting thing about this book which I felt is the blend of W
Sep 02, 2011 Meg rated it liked it
Following 'Empire of Wealth' I decided to try and grow my knowledge a little bit on the subject of finance. Having greatly enjoyed Niall Fergesun's previous work, I thought this would be a great way to go. And, in essence, it was.

However, what this book doesn't tell you is that it's written for someone with a much higher understanding of global finance than I currently posess. I'm a financial and economic newbie, having only read Empire of Wealth and little else to increase my understanding of t
I expected this book to give a good insight (as opposed to a comprehensive history due to its length) on how the monetary and financial systems developed throughout history. It is instead a series of historical anecdotes thematically combined on each chapter. Some of them are really informative (the ascent of the Rothschilds), others are downright superficial and inaccurate.

The political and economic doctrines of the author are obvious in the reading of the book, as pointed out by other reviews
Lois Bujold
Jul 31, 2013 Lois Bujold rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: grownups
Recommended to Lois by: found as PBS documentary
I came by this book via finding the PBS 4-part series up on, which I have recently discovered as a goldmine of missed NOVA and Nature shows, free to watch online. I watched the TV shows first, and picked up the book from the library to see if it would add depth.

if you want to check them out.

I am quite weak on financial history, so this book made an excellent beginning remedial course. I don't think one should stop here, however. But I did find Ferguso
Jan 10, 2009 Andrew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, business
The is a very interesting take on the role of money in world history. Ferguson tracks the evolution of the financial world right up to the present economic crisis. He writes very well and weaves in how other historic events were triggered or enabled by changes in how money works. Even if one challenges some of the opinions in the book, it is very thought provoking.

Given everything that is going on around us these days, this is an excellent read. Highly recommended.
Yazeed AlMogren
يتحدث كاتب هذا الكتاب الأستاذ قي جامعة هارفرد عن كيف احتاج البشر الى ايجاد آلية لتنظيم التجارة والمسائل الإقتصادية فيما بينهم وكيف مر المال في مراحل ظهر بها في أوجة عديدة وكيف بدأت فكرة صناديق التقاعد وكيف بدأ التأمين، الكتاب يحتوي على معلومات إقتصادية مهمة، أعتقد بأن دار النشر عليها أن تراجع طبعتها وتعيد إصدار طبعة جديدة لوجود أخطاء مطبعية وإملائية في الكتاب
Alex Lee
May 16, 2016 Alex Lee rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, history, 2016
Ferguson does a pretty good job at speaking clearly about money. This is less an economics book than a history book -- but Ferguson does have an angle to present the colonization of the planet as hand in hand with the "ascent" of money. The direction by which money becomes abstracted to the highest order of human organization is the exploration Ferguson wants. He concentrates on each epoch as a new logic regarding finance until it is pushed to the limit of coherency. In the case of insurance, in ...more
Aries Eroles
Dec 20, 2015 Aries Eroles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review shall be posted "really soon".

This is exactly a kind of book wherein:
1) you have to read more books;
2) you must read more books;
3) there is a need to read more books,

because of its highly annotated and referenced texts. The endnotes is actually 35 pages long citing numerous books, working papers, journals, news articles, etc.
két con
Sep 27, 2015 két con rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
nhờ có quyển này mà nắm được khái niệm cơ bản về trái phiếu, cổ phiếu, bảo hiểm, quỹ phòng hộ, bất động sản, Trung Quốc, Soros.
Mar 23, 2016 Akaitsoti rated it liked it
Δεν καταλαβα και πολλα...
The Ascent of Money provides a good broad outline of the history of the modern global financial system, but does not go deep enough either on the historical origins of financial institutions or the nature of the financial systems themselves. For example the idea of fractional reserve is important and central to the power of modern economics, but it's not given much attention here. Ferguson chooses certain key historical events around which to build his story. These are usually informative and in ...more
Feb 01, 2009 Deirdre rated it it was amazing
Money's money, right? Wrong. My sister told me that "Life is like a sh*t sandwich, the more bread you have the less sh*t you eat." (True unless you're Sunny Von Bulow.)

Niall Ferguson focuses his history of the world on its finances. He succeeds in explaining the origins, evolution, and present state of currency, bonds, stocks, insurance, property, and financial wizardry. There's plenty I still don't know, but looking at the world through the prism of money usually explains a lot. And while Karl
Feb 01, 2009 Miguel rated it really liked it
Engaging book, although it does not add much to the TV documentary, which is available through the PBS website and also on YouTube. However, I was sufficiently impressed by the book and a couple of his essays in Vanity Fair that I plan to read more of Ferguson's work. I ordered the "Cash Nexus" and, maybe, if I have a long illness, I'll also read his book on the Rothschilds. A brilliant man, though perhaps a trifle self-aggrandizing. He claims, for instance, to have predicted the housing collaps ...more
Sep 30, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
I caught one and one-half episodes of the TV series of the same title on PBS a month or so ago. I read the book hoping for more context and depth on the concepts presented in the show. In general, I was not disappointed.

As a historical overview, it touches on the earliest forms of exchange (and money) as well as the development of various financial schemes and instruments over the past two thousand years. Given that it was written to accompany the development of the series, it probably contains
Jul 09, 2009 Erik rated it liked it
First, a complaint: This is hardly a history of monetary forms and use. Although Ferguson does discuss some of this early on in his book, everything after the first chapter is devoted to monetary policies and practices, and the rise of capitalism since the Renaissance.

One of Ferguson’s driving points is made early on, and is repeated throughout his book. That is, he vehemently and persuasively argues that capitalism – to riff Churchill’s critique of democracy – may be a horrible form of economi
Mar 26, 2009 karl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Econ faculty to add to their syllabus as recommended reading
Solid research (lots of footnotes), almost too much detailed stats at some points, and excellent writing (e.g., short sentences) are the strength of this book. It reads similar to a somewhat disparate collage of econ/finance/policy articles from the Economist, or the New Yorker, or Times. That takes a star off for me. There might be a lot of attention to Long Term Capital, Hurricane Katrina, professor DeSoto's work in Peru and South America, British landowners in the 1800's, and the poor in Detr ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Kerem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is overall a really interesting book, giving the history of finance from the days when the first contracts were made for payments, and focusing quite a bit in the last 2-3 centuries, when a lot of financial tools and institutions were developed. It has also a good analysis of our current messy world, which is cleverly compared with the world just before 1914 and hence the reader's attention is drawn to those dangerous parallels. Though Ferguson is quite a hardcore fan of neoliberalism and y ...more
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Niall Ferguson is a British (Scottish) historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdalen College, Oxford.

He is best know
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“The ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of man.” 14 likes
“there really is no such thing as ‘the future’, singular. There are only multiple, unforeseeable futures, which will never lose their capacity to take us by surprise.” 7 likes
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