The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  9,621 ratings  ·  788 reviews
A richly original look at the origins of money and how it makes the world go around

Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of our financial system, from its genesis in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance. What's more, Ferguson reveals financial history as the essential backstory behind all histor...more
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Published (first published November 13th 2007)
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Chris
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
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
Michael
Jun 02, 2009 Michael rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Trevor
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...more
Qi
"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...more
Stephen
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
Tao
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...more
Kirsti
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...more
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
Meg
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...more
Andrew
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.
Praveen
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...more
Deirdre
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...more
Juan-Pablo
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...more
Miguel
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
Erik
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...more
karl
Mar 26, 2009 karl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Erez Davidi
Niall Ferguson's works about World War I and World War II were highly controversial when published and still are. All the more so is his book "Empire" concerning the British Empire, in which he argued that the benefits of Imperialism outweigh the drawbacks. You might not agree with Ferguson's arguments, but you can always count on him to put forward a thought-provoking premise.

As well, Ferguson's understanding of financial history is widely acknowledged. Nevertheless, writing a financial history...more
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

David
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
Dennis O'Brien
For those of us who never took an economics course in college this is a great book. Its scope seems overly ambitious (a history of the world as told through money and finance), but it in fact tells exactly that story, and while there are some necessarily broad strokes at times, the book does not shy away from getting into the gritty details when necessary. It certainly demands some attentive reading when it delves into some of the more complicated concepts of the late 20th century financial abst...more
Jan Hidders
Excellent book if you want to understand how finance got its all-important role in the world today, from Sumerian clay tablets representing tradable IOUs up to the recent financial crisis. Niall Ferguson manages to do this in an understandable and accessible way that is at the same time also very entertaining, compelling and filled with fun anecdotes. I especially like the slightly irreverential and provocative tone that he maintains while demystifying the "secrets" of the financial world. In my...more
Sahil Udani
I had always wondered what would literature on financial history be like. I mean developed financial markets could not be more then 100 years old, can they? The answer is most definitely yes. Who better to explain them then a historian.

Niall Ferguson has put together an impressive piece of literature on financial history which dates back to early 13th century to the last year's sub-prime crisis. The book has some very clear and precise historical facts with in-numerable quotations (for people wh...more
Beatles24
This is one of those rare books that you read not just once but you (a) have to own a copy of it, (b) have to buy a copy and necessarily gift to everyone that you know and their sister in law, (c) and upon reading it, simply feel utterly stupid that there are so many things about the financial world - so completely basic - that one ought to have known but one just doesn't.

Niall Ferguson brings an innate sense of timing, weaves storylines like they are part of a film noir thriller, and quotes so...more
Andy
This book is very timely. The state of the economy has been on my mind a lot, as with many people. Ferguson paints the total historical picture of money, and its relationship with society. That's quite a scope for a single book. Regardless, I felt I learned plenty, and I feel comforted that we are in just one of many, many historical moments when the floor fell out from the economy. Granted, it's possible we may not have a recovery in our generation (although quite possible we will too), but I'm...more
Oliver Bateman
There's not much of substance here. However, Ferguson's a decent enough writer, and I was unfamiliar with the details of a few of the vignettes he's included (the 1719 Mississippi Company bubble, the development of the Dutch stock market, the precise nature of capital flows prior to WWI). If you're looking a linear and well-researched narrative, however, look elsewhere; all of this stuff came from other sources, and it was probably assembled in a week. Many reviewers have criticized the book on...more
Mike
Sep 30, 2009 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Lois Bujold
Jul 31, 2013 Lois Bujold rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 pbs.org, 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.

http://video.pbs.org/video/2246958992

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...more
Ben Babcock
Long have I regarded the economy as a fickle, fictitious construct of humanity. If we disappeared, it would disappear (although its effects on the environment would remain). However, that's a very naive view to take, and not a particularly helpful one. So I set out to learn more about the economy the way we're told to learn about things in school: begin at the beginning. The Ascent of Money is an attempt to recount the wise of finance, beginning in Mesopotamia and ending in modern-day United Sta...more
David
How does the Spanish quest for gold explain inflation? What role did cotton bonds play in the fall of the Confederacy (and Britain's conquest of Egypt)? Why are squatters in third world countries sitting on $9 trillion in property assets? If any of these questions are even mildly interesting to you, then you ought to read Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money.

Using statistics, analogies, and historical examples, Ferguson takes the reader on a dazzling tour of the last 500 years of financial histo...more
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Niall Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) 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 Magdal...more
More about Niall Ferguson...
Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

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“The ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of man.” 7 likes
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