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Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  614 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published 2011 by Allen & Unwin
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Average rating 3.48  · 
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 ·  614 ratings  ·  116 reviews

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Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
Double Entry has not long been available, but I have been looking forward to reading it since I first heard of its impending publication. A blend of accounting and Renaissance Italian history; Jane Gleeson-White could have been writing for an audience of me.

The author starts poorly, however, patronising her audience a number of times with declarations that Renaissance Venice was ‘the New York of its age’ or ‘the Silicon Valley’ of its age. It is hard to see how these comparisons help anyone, and
Oct 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(56k words, 1-2h read) Popularizing overview of Luca Pacioli's publication of double-entry bookkeeping, and some historical tracing of its subsequent spread through Europe and use in modern corporate-capitalism. As an active user of ledger for my personal finances, writer of the WP article on the Medici Bank, & reader of Nick Szabo, I thought I might find Double Entry interesting.

The book sets up as a morality play, pointing to the many well-known corporate scandals in the 2000s, before quic
Brian Weisz
The part that was history of double-entry accounting was interesting. The part that was weeping for mother earth was boring.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book starts as a rather engaging history of how double-entry accounting came to be and a semi-biography of Fra Luca Pacioli, the Franciscan monk whose Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (Review of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportions and Proportionality, 1494) contains a tract called Particularis de computes et scripturis (translation: Particulars of Reckonings and Writings, The Rules of Double-Entry Bookkeeping) which lays out the basic rules of double-entry* book ...more
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

The first half of the book is halfway decent as a retelling of how double entry accounting spread throughout Italy and eventually the world. The person of Lucas Picoli is somewhat interesting and more time could have been spent on his personal life beyond simply his treatise.

Then the book takes a left turn and becomes an anti-finance and accounting screed. I'm not sure if the book wasn't long enough with just the story on accounting or if the first half of the book was cover for the second
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
(DISCLAIMER: I’m more well-read and educated in history than accounting. I think this book would be overall more enjoyable for accountants. There aren’t enough books about accounting out there.)

If proving that ‘double-entry bookkeeping has shaped the modern world’ sounds extremely ambitious, that’s because it is. Later in the text it’s even revealed that other works supporting this thesis are generally considered the minority opinion, so not only does Gleeson-White have to stretch a very limited
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, timely book in two parts.

The first part of the book provides a surprisingly captivating summary of the history of accounting, starting with the story of the introduction of Arabic numerals to the western world, moving on to a biography of Luca Pacioli, the "father" of modern day accounting, and finishing with the development of corporate accounting and then national accounting in the 20th century. This portion of the book was packed with interesting historical tidbits which were in
Slava Gorbunov
Feb 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is very interesting. While reading it becomes clear why bookkeeping today is what it is. I liked to see historical information about it and some outstanding people who influenced the way people administer business.
Despite the main idea of the book, this quote shows us that nothing has been changed for centuires:

"Money, wrote Alberti in the 1430s, ‘is the root of all things’: ’with money one can have a town house or a villa; and all the trades and craftsmen will toil like servants for t
Mar 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book skipped around. From the codification of double entry and financial statements to Keynes. Didn't think the dovetail was necessarily consistent.
Dana Stabenow
It's always fun to read a book where in the writing of it the author learns something to confound the expectations with which she began it. In the penultimate chapter White writes

Before I started researching it, I had intended to name this chapter 'The rise and fall of a profession'. It was to chart the glorious rise of accounting in the second half of the twentieth century to the lofty heights of the professional Olympus and then trace its collapse in the wake of scandals like Enron and WorldCo
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
This book has four distinct sections to it:
1. Luca Pacioli's work to create double-entry bookkeeping, which would coincide with the invention of moveable type and make his "Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportion et Proportionalita" the first widely-distributed accounting treatise.
2. How double-entry bookkeeping allowed limited partnerships to spread mercantilism -- and then to allow factory owners (and later railroads) to accurately account for product costs in the face of large upfront cap
Thomas Stama
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very interesting book that I hope many more people read. While it starts off as a history of Double Entry Accounting from Fibonacci and Luca Pacioli until present day, it is very timely. The last chapters are much concerned with present day shortcomings with double entry accounting and accountants. How accounting can be used to deceive on a purely business level as with recent recessions but also on the true costs of national and international economies.

It literally addresses the grave
Mary Whisner
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics, math
I enjoyed the chapters about Luca Pacioli, the mathematician who included 29 pages on double-entry bookkeeping into a massive work on math. He can from the same town as Piero della Francesca, was friends with Leonardo da Vinci, and basically was smack in the middle of the Italian Renaissance—which was funded by the the wealth born of international trade.

Arabic numerals and double-entry bookkeeping: what a winning combination!

Come the Industrial Revolution and there were new challenges, dealing w
Ralph Quirequire
Jul 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the first 8 or so chapters of the book, but found the last few sections a bit unexciting (though still quite informative).
The book does a great job of retracing the steps that eventually led to the invention of the double-entry bookkeeping method by Luca Pacioli (a fascinating character whom I recall my college accounting textbook only cursorily mentioned in a footnote), knitting together historic shifts such as Europe’s adoption of the Arabic number system (which made doing arithmetic
Nov 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any student of business, accounting or public policy
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: review in "The Economist"
DOUBLE ENTRY is a brief history of double-entry bookkeeping from the principles systematized by Luca Pacioli in his Particularis de Computis et Scripturis (Particulars of Reckonings and Writings) published in 1494 to today's arbiter of national economic progress (the GDP). The revolution that double-entry bookkeeping represented was the reorganization of discrete sequential transactions (the buying and selling of goods) into an abstraction (the same activities organized as capital assets, expens ...more
Matt Heavner
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I'm biased because many years back gnucash got me convinced that double entry accounting is the "true way". Then Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle convinced me that there was an interesting history behind double entry accounting. I heard an interview with Gleeson-White (this author) on marketplace money and also saw a review somewhere else -- I knew I had to read it. (Funny aside, when I first did an amazon search on Double Entry there were a few eye-popping books showi ...more
Kressel Housman
Like The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations, this is a history of accounting. Of the two books, I liked The Reckoning more, and I don’t think that’s simply because I read it first. I can’t deny it’s a factor, though, because the overlap of information did bore me in spots whereas it might not have otherwise. But the main difference is in the moral argument each book makes. Whereas The Reckoning argues that accounting can be used to fight corruption in busine ...more
Chris Tomalty
Dec 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
First, the Audible narrator was horrible. She sounded like a computer. It was very distracting.

I found the book itself decent, but it missed what I imagine were major points (the Netherlands? Most of America's history?). The last chapter or two is also bizarrely off-topic. The author takes the idea that double-entry creates an idea that all costs are accounted in the accounting cost and runs with it, decrying it as laying waste to our environment. Not only is this not a view held by any economis
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Environmentalists
I can't remember what intrigued me when I read a review of this book but I've been wanting to understand economics better for a while so perhaps that was the main motivation. I do somewhat understand a few things better.
What absolutely fascinated me though was her last chapter where she shows convincingly how accountants could help to save the world. She points out that our GDP and similar figures are deeply flawed since they do not cost the expense of using the environment and the destruction
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great little book which evoked memories of my accounting studies a long time ago. The author mentions the influence on Pacioli of Piero della Francesca who was both a mathematician and a painter (and wrote on the application of maths to painting). Curiously I was reading Betty Churcher's "Notebooks" at the same time and Piero's name popped up again, with Churcher's analysis of Piero's painting "The Baptism of Christ" hanging in the National Gallery, London. A nice co-incidence, perhaps. But Gl ...more
Dave Peticolas
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of double-entry accounting. Do not be afraid. It is far more enjoyable than you might have thought. Really.

First of all, the history of accounting goes back to the earliest civilizations and may have played a role in the invention of writing. Things really get going in Venice at the start of the Renaissance when the Venetians discover (or possibly borrow from the Arabs) the techniques of double-entry, the form of accounting used all over the world today, for good or ill. Highly recomme
Robert Monk
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I've been studying accounting, I -- being me -- wanted to find a history of the subject. In The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Robert Lopez talked about the impact of double-entry accounting on the rise of the Italian city-states, so I knew there was a connection between my one of my primary fields of interest and accounting. Thus, I picked up this book to see what it more I could learn.

This is a pretty good starter into the study of accounting history and its impact on the world.
This book has 3 acts.
Act 1: The history of double entry book keeping and how it started to spread around the world.
Act 2: The co-dependance arising of book keeping, corporations, and accountants/accounting. Wherein we learn that the concept of double entry book keeping is mutable and can be modified to handle the changing needs of the 18th-20th centuries; from the first corporations to tracking national accounts and GDP/GNP.
Act 3: The scandals an inadequacies of GDP/GNP to account for "externa
Mar 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Took me longer than a month to read, I must have first picked it up over a year ago but couldn't get into it. I was reluctant to give up on the book because I am trying to understand double-entry accounting better in connection with my work - I thought maybe going back to the roots of the system I could understand some of the things that seem arbitrary and cryptic. The first half is the strongest; although it didn't give me the insight I was hoping for, the detailed account of the historical cir ...more
James Herring
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting journey through the history of modern accounting, the story of Double Entry ties together the last 700 years of economic development in much of the world. The book keeps your interest by focusing on the politics, places, and people that were shaped by double entry bookkeeping rather than the mundane arithmetic details of accounting.

The only major weakness of the book was the modern history (and future direction) of accounting covered in the last few chapters, when Gleeson-White b
Carole Hazell
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Well researched & written. The author describes the historical progession of accounting practices, linking this to the 2008 Financial Crisis, clarifying the means by which companies continue to provide financial information - & to hide crucial details, still resulting in devastating losses . Frightening! She then moves into the global cost of ignoring environmental values & relying on GDP figures, which she claims are potentially risking the health & wealth of our planet. Draw yo ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Seemed to me like this was really two short books. One on the deep backstory of double entry accounting and the other on its place in the modern world. I'm sure some reviewers were probably disappointed that the book delves into the political in the second half (spoiler: author is a Keynesian). I, however, found the second half excellent. I often say to colleagues and clients "economic efficiencies aren't always the greatest good." This book gives some insight into how so many people came to bel ...more
Tim Conder
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good summary of the history of accounting from its early origins in the mathematics of the renaissance through to the changes that accompanied the industrial revolution and the modern age.

The book is let down somewhat by its ending, which transitions from an objective history to a rather slanted treatise on the environment and the failure of accounting systems to deal with externalities. The discussion is not particularly original, although there are a few insightful comments that redeem it.

Noah Skocilich
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A delightful history of accounting that makes a string and nuanced case for its importance in the development of the global economy generally since around the 13th century.

I wouldn’t have guessed where the last few chapters (about recent current events and the environment) were going to go, but I appreciate them very much, and gave in fact already ordered the author’s next book which I believe picks up where these chapters left off.
Haley Hixson
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
A really fast and easy read, but I wish that it was just about the development of double entry bookkeeping in renaissance Italy, which I found fascinating. The stuff about financial fraud and economic collapse in the 2000's due to accounting tricks didn't capture my attention as well, since the section didn't bring to light anything that I didn't know. It seems like this was two different short books smushed into one.
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Jane Gleeson-White is a writer, editor and speaker, and is well known for her work on literature, economics and the natural world. She is the author of the bestselling, internationally acclaimed Double Entry: How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world (2011) and its sequel Six Capitals: The revolution capitalism has to have (2015). Her first two books are about literature: Classics (2005) ...more
“As Francesco Datini of Prato did a century before, Pacioli advises merchants to incorporate explicit signs of Christianity into their books as a way of legitimising their profit-seeking activities. The use of double entry itself was like the Catholic confession: if a merchant confessed—or accounted for—all his world activities before God, then perhaps his sins would be absolved. These Christian flourishes that Pacioli recommends merchants include in their books are therefore no mere ornaments.” 2 likes
“(Demanding interest on loans was not permitted anywhere in Europe until 1545, when Henry VIII legalised it in England.)” 1 likes
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