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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  23,857 ratings  ·  1,518 reviews
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 the root of all evil. To generals, it’s the sinews ...more
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published November 13th 2008 by Penguin Press (first published November 13th 2007)
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Betsy I absolutely recommend this book! It is nothing that JC in the other answer said... I cannot imagine using any of the adjectives he/she used. DEFINITE…moreI absolutely recommend this book! It is nothing that JC in the other answer said... I cannot imagine using any of the adjectives he/she used. DEFINITELY read it if you have not already. I can't wait to read Ferguson's other books. (less)

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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 he
Nov 30, 2008 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
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, history
Financial institutions are not evil, that's Niall Ferguson's main point. For some, this is already a hard sell. I am not, as it were, temperamentally against the idea, but I sure seem to read a lot of books by people who are, so I was curious to follow his arguments. And I have to admit that for the most part, he makes his case convincingly, arguing that ‘poverty is not the result of rapacious financiers exploiting the poor’ but rather ‘has much more to do with the lack of financial institutions ...more
Sep 17, 2009 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
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
John Farebrother
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a very informative, and convincing book, about the history, and the need for money. I say that despite the fact that I disagree with the author's conviction that capitalism is one of humanity's greatest achievements, and that the price of progress is more than worth it, no matter who loses out. Also despite the fact that I have heard that the author is quite an arrogant individual. But this book is a thorough and comprehensive account of the various milestones that have taken place in th ...more
Dec 02, 2008 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
Mar 10, 2015 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
Mar 15, 2011 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 i
Apr 23, 2010 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
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
Daniel Clausen
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-of-2018
This is a book very much set in the anxieties of 2008. As you read this book, you may find yourself going back ten years when it seemed likely the financial world might end.

Each chapter takes on a different issue: money, the bond market, stocks, housing, and political economy. Each chapter is concise and well-written. For much of the book, however, I felt that the narrative was a bit aimless.

There is no ideology behind the book that I can see...the book is not Marxist, nor Libertarian, nor raw
"The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson explores the development of financial systems - primarily European systems from about the year 1400 onward and the United States system since the Civil War. There is major focus on the US economy in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

This book is just OK - not bad but not that good either.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Narrated by: Simon Prebble
Length: 11 hours and 27 minutes 
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date: 2008-12-12
Publisher: T
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
Dec 20, 2013 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
Lois Bujold
Jul 31, 2013 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
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
Dec 12, 2008 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
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
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, well-written history of the financial markets covering the Medicis and Rothschilds, the Dutch East India Company, establishment of the banking system, the stock market, insurance and risk, property and property ownership and the 2008 financial crisis. The topic is somewhat dry, but relevant and interesting nonetheless.
11811 (Eleven)
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dude has a keen eye for macro history.
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
As the author says, most current traders and execs may not have a living memory of a crisis. Which is why we need to study financial history. To that effect, the author explains all the crises in simple language. It makes for an interesting and engaging read.
Josh Friedlander
Jun 17, 2015 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
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
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, history
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.
Nedret Efe
Aug 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting history of money/banking and major developments in financial institutions (e.g. coinage; Fibonacci Book of Value and PV, Arabic numerals, calculation of interest; emergence of the European banking families; exchange banking, central banking, and fractional reserve banking; Bagehot and lending in crises; insurance; the welfare state, and others), but doesn’t offer much in original insight or commentary
Jan 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
Ferguson may be a good historian, I wouldn't know, but he certainly is not a good (and unbiased) commentator on current and recent affairs. The main problem with this book is that it really is not a comprehensive history of money/finance, but more of a random sampling of some historical vignettes chosen to build towards Ferguson's ide0logical beliefs. In other words, this doesn't come across as a dispassionate, historical examination but as a slanted manifesto of the author's beliefs in a crude ...more
Jul 06, 2010 rated it did not like it
Ferguson made a topic I find interesting extremely dull. Read Michael Lewis or John Lanchester if you want to find someone capable of explaining complex financial machinery properly.
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn’t love it. Some attempts were made to explain complex financial concepts, but it felt halfhearted. And the second half of the book was crammed full of terminology that was only partly explained, along with an oppressive amount of detail about various financial crises. Maybe this would be a good book for someone with a pretty good business/finance education, but it’s not for lay people unless they’re a lot smarter than me.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson to be a lot like A Splendid Exchange: a history of trade around the world. Instead, it is much more narrowly a history of banking, centering on Western Europe and the U.S.

The author explains the banking system in chapters, starting with money itself, then moving on to bonds, joint stock and limited liability companies, insurance, real estate, hedge funds--all in increasing order of complication, until he gets to those newfangled and regrettab
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Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, former Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and current senior fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and founder and managing director of advisory firm Greenmantle LLC.

The author of 15 books, Ferguson is writin

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