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The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,882 ratings  ·  175 reviews
Something is wrong with our banking system. We all sense that, but Mervyn King knows it firsthand; his ten years at the helm of the Bank of England, including at the height of the financial crisis, revealed profound truths about the mechanisms of our capitalist society. In The End of Alchemy he offers us an essential work about the history and future of money and banking, ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 11th 2016)
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Athan Tolis
Stop what you’re doing, drop everything, buy and read this book. Twice. I’ll start my second reading as soon as I’m done writing down my thoughts.

I’d gladly swap all ten books I’ve read about the crisis (“mine” at ten) for this modest and mischievous masterpiece.

Mervyn King does not go looking for villains or victims here. You will not find the words “greed” or “fear” in this text, nor do you get any history recounted, unless it is to illustrate a point. What you get is an informal, comprehensiv
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
‘For centuries alchemy has been the basis of our system of money and banking. Governments pretended that paper money could be turned into gold even when there was more of the former than the latter. Banks pretended that short term riskless deposits could be used to finance long term risky investments. In both, cases the alchemy is the apparent transformation of risk into safety. … For a society to base its financial system on alchemy is a poor advertisement for its rationality. The key to ending ...more
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
King could not have had better view of the banking sector for the past several decades and if you haven't read an analysis of the crisis, this would be the one to read. It's not just that though. He also covers the basics of money, banking, and central banking. The premise is that though we seem to know capitalism well, we don't quite understand money and banking. In fact, the field of economics has stopped talking about it altogether. King wades in as a clear thinking guide. It will likely tak ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somebody wise once advised me to read books in clusters that were somewhat but not completely related. Given the proliferation of books about the financial shocks of 2007-2008 and following years, that seemed like good advice and that is why I have read this in conjunction with Stiglitz's book on the Euro. Both are excellent and well written books that do a wonderful of communicating some complex issues and convoluted fact patterns.

King is the former head of the Bank of England and addresses the
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mervyn King has the experience to back up his theories regarding the cause for the global recession and potential solutions for the future success in global banking. Being the former governor for the Bank of England, he has a view that is lacking from most books on banking. Most books focus on the issue in Wall Street only, but the issue and impact is worldwide. He discusses the problems in the European Union with a common currency and other members’ debt. Sounds as though much of their issue is ...more
Tuncer Şengöz
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finance
One of the best books on money, banking system, economic crises, and central banks, I have read recently. It took only one week to finish the book, though I read some paragraphs twice to grasp the idea. Yet this book is worth reading twice.
The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy is a book by former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who was a principle participant in the global effort to combat the Great Recession of 2008. King has since retired from his position, and has written his first (and hopefully not last) book on the crisis. This isn't, however, one of the many timeline books of the recession, or about placing blame, or even absolving himself of responsibility. King instead focuses on n ...more
Pedro L. Fragoso
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been a frequent reader of books about our current financial predicament, which entered into high gear in 2007/8. Prof. Michael Hudson’s “Killing the Host” was and still is the best of the lot, but the books by James Rickards and Varoufakis’ “And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future” were also particularly remarkable. There were a number of others (and more in the reading list, even if right now my priority is travelling to the moon and accompany the ...more
Vishal Kale
For starters, this is a book for westerners, written by a westerner, and on a western topic. This is exclusively a Western / Developed Economy book only. While the pluses are distributed throughout – as in a brilliant paragraph on Page 360; the fact remains that the arguments presented in the latter half of the book do not make any sort of sense. I am sorry, I know he is a highly adept expert, but there is no other way to phrase this..The solutions are half-baked, not thought through, and error ...more
Mr. King clearly knows what he's talking about on monetary policy and bank regulation, but his public and fiscal policy recommendations detract from that knowledge. He dismisses the utility of government stimulus in the Great Recession, ignoring the fact that the US stimulus should have been much bigger, and could have been much more punitive on the banks. He also places too much faith in the IMF for dealing with crises in the developing countries, ignoring completely the IMF's role in causing t ...more
Ayoub Makroz
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book from Mervyn King, ex Bank of England governor. His main idea is that the magic of finance is governed by four main ideas : Radical uncertainty, disequilibrium, the prisoner's dilemma and trust. He also gives potential solutions to the stagnation of the world economy ...more
Mbogo J
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A full library has been created out of the 08/09 global financial crisis. The books might differ in content and in prose but they all have a unifying theme. Blame game. There are those that blame Wall Street's greed and the folly of human nature, some blame regulators for being too lax and the tragedy of repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, others just blame the effects of too much debt... This book is not numbered among them.

If you want to understand the financial crisis and the general underpinni
Tariq Mahmood
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economy, history
The author has produced a very pessimistic view of the current state of economy before and after the great credit crunch of 2008. If the then Governor of Bank of England has categorised the western economy as inherently at fault than more doom and gloom is certainly on its way. The Far Rights slowly taking over power in the western world should start addressing these issue instead of blaming the Immigrants for somehow creating the current glum before their public really start to lynch them. The ...more
Erick Rosas
Apr 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: econ
When I read, I start very slowly. Especially with non-fiction. It is like moving to a new country every time, so I seem to drift in adapting to the specific language of the author. It was the same with this book, which saw me two years stuck on page 30, and took about two months once I managed to read at a decent pace.

Once I settled in this "country", boy was it worth it. Mervyn King writes what looks to be two books in one. One, brilliantly exposed and comprising the majority of the text, descr
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
"Brimming with new ideas....brilliant" reads the cover of the paperback I bought. There's two main ideas: one being the central banks functioning as a 'pawner for all seasons' as opposed to a 'lender of last resort', second is more cooperation between central banks and simplifying the systems (end alchemy) to structure the economy better and thus preventing large crises like the one in 2008. (The latter being discussed very elaborately, sometimes repeating certain systems and events two or three ...more
Ben Irvin
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics-read
This is now my fifth book in the series on macroeconomics. I do recommend it although I initially was not so sure. King was head of the UK central bank from 2003-2013, so he certainly has experience and deep knowledge of what can and did happen with banking and the world economy. I liked the book ultimately because of the several good insights I gained and because it challenged, to some degree, the predominant thinking that earlier books in the series had tended to agree on. King's writing is fl ...more
Jan 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book with some apprehension that it'd another book on the 2008 financial crisis, a topic on which there is a never-ending amount of literature. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of the book - rather than being just another book vilifying greedy bankers, this book actually illustrates

1. the structural issues with fractional reserve banking
2. the long term unsustainability of having an export-led or trade deficit growth policy
3. why economic forecasting mod
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The former Bank of England Governor gives a suprisingly readable account of his understanding of the serious underlying faults in modern finance. While there exists a plethora of books on finance since the crash of 2008, this one stands out for 2 reasons. First, it's by a former Central Bank chief, Second, Lord King has some interesting recommendations.
King suggests that Central Banks, rather than being Lender of Last Resort, should instead be Pawn Broker for All Seasons, and in the last chapter
Sarah Toney
An incredible book on the role of central banks, how money and our economies work, and the intrinsic nature of boom/busts in our current system. While I don't agree with everything, this book provides a real foundation for understanding our economic reality and what needs to be done to shift to a more stable money system that will support the real economy and real people. I believe it's important for us to understand our economic world so that we can powerfully stand up for our own best interest ...more
Tamim Diaa
Sep 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Strongly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the world of money and banks or interested in the state of the world’s economy. The book is Written in an easy language and is very informative and full of insights and ideas.
Carlos Salazar
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good book to know more about the financial system and specifically about causes of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. I attended multiple courses about economics during my undergrad and master degrees, and still found value in this book written by the former head of the bank of England.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it
A disappointing book mainly because who it comes from. If a person with all the policy power possible, who could so clearly see whatever was wrong in the policymaking and still could do nothing, he should have written on practical issues that confound the decision-making and ways to get around them rather than offer more theories and theoretical solutions.

Theory, as is invariably the case with great economists, is good even if presented in the laymen language garb. Other academicians may find ho
Ajay Palekar
Nov 29, 2019 rated it liked it
"It is rare to encounter a book on economics quite as thought-provoking, clever, and brimming with new ideas. Agree or disagree, Mervyn King's arguments deserve the attention of everyone."

"A Former Governor of the Bank of England, King proposes an account of the recent financial crisis focused on the underlying causes of what went wrong. By taking a longer view on the series of financial crises that have become the cornerstone of modern capitalism. The End of Alchemy explains why, ultimately, t
Jul 09, 2020 rated it liked it
I am a master's student in economics, although my specialisation is not macro economics. I bought this book because I wanted to see how macroeconomic theories play their role in real life. I thought I knew a bit about macroeconomics, until I read this book.
I see no review about the actual readability of the book. I guess either everyone finds the book easy to ready or no one is willing to admit that they simply did not understand most of what Mervyn King is talking about. I will be honest then.
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economie
The year 2008 led to the worst financial crisis we have ever had at least since 1929. Until now, both central banks and governments struggle to recover. Money has been used unwisely, because politicians were unwilling to take unpopular decisions. Like doping, trying to hide overconsumption, increasing private and government debt.

A case study is the European Monetary Union for which it was not longer required that inflation would converge or budget deficits would belong to the past. Germany force
Feb 23, 2017 rated it liked it
There are a number of problems with Mervyn King's book. The first is the rote recitation of Adam Smith's origins of money in barter that are a fantasy that economists cling to despite extensive evidence pointing to money as credit, both social and otherwise as the start of a monetary system. (see Debt: the First 5000 years for a comprehensive look) While he does comment on the endemic fraud around the crisis, he does not address the role it played in and around the crisis. (Though I am unfamilia ...more
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mervyn King gives an articulately argued and detailed explanation of the orthodox banking religion ie that banks are socially useful and contribute significantly to human prosperity, rather than being a rent-seeking drag on true human endeavour. It is interesting that he acknowledges several times that economics has little predictive power and yet still quotes the wisdom of economists past to prescribe how the financial system should be treated.

If you have a positive view of banks and want that
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Really disappointing. Long-winded, dreary, boring. It's about as "white old man" as you can get.

King was part of the financial crisis insofar as he was in charge of the Bank of England at the time. He seems to want to avoid blaming anybody, and simply reduces the crisis to rational people responding rationally to a rational world. However, he fails to pinpoint the aspects of greed that drove the crisis and currently drive the financial markets which have not changed much since the crisis.

It's no
Dave Peticolas
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very thoughtful and clear-sighted analysis of the late-2000 financial crisis and Great Recession. Although King was a key figure at the time, this is not a blow-by-blow account of the events nor a search for immediate blame. King is looking for the deeper causes of what happened and how to prevent such crises in the future. He also presents one of the most lucid accounts of the underlying structural problems that led to the crisis and subsequent recession that I have read. I'm not enough of an e ...more
Michael Baranowski
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I wanted to like this book. But after trudging through nearly 200 pages, it never felt like anything but a dull slog. It's not that I'm adverse to economic wonkery - I've read plenty of books on the economy - but I found King's writing to be too dry and pedantic to sustain my interest. ...more
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Mervyn Allister King, Baron King of Lothbury, KG GBE FBA was the Governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of its Monetary Policy Committee from 2003 to 2013. He had been Deputy Governor from 1998 to 2003, Chief Economist and Executive Director from 1991, and a non-executive director of the Bank from 1990 to 1991.

King is a Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of King's and St John'

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