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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World [Paperback]

Niall Ferguson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 27 2009
A richly original look at the origins of money and how it makes the world go ?round

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 history, arguing that the evolution of credit and debt was as important as any technological innovation in the rise of civilization. As Ferguson traces the crisis from ancient Egypt?s Memphis to today?s Chongqing, he offers bold and compelling new insights into the rise? and fall?of not just money but Western power as well.


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Review

" Before regulators throw block trades, bond swaps, bridge financing, butterfly spreads and Black-Scholes out with the bathwater, they should find time to read Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money."
-The Wall Street Journal

"[An] excellent, just in time guide to the history of finance and financial crisis."
-The Washington Post

" Shrewdly anticipates many aspects of the current financial crisis, which has toppled banks, precipitated gigantic government bailouts and upended global markets."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times



About the Author

Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, and Colossus, he also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world. Since 2003 he has written and presented three highly successful television documentary series for British television: Empire, American Colossus, and, most recently, The War of the World.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Speaks for Itself Dec 22 2008
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
As Ferguson points out so clearly in his latest book, "Ascent of Money", money and its propagation have become the chief driving forces of modern history. Like it or not, society's love affair with money has driven it to devise all kinds of ingenious means for expanding its power to produce more. This study looks at a number of fascinating scenarios where the Medicis, the Rothschilds, the Bank of England, the Paris stock exchange, the insurance industry and Wall Street have all done their bit to raise the historical significance of hard cash to a stratospheric level where it is no longer just a tangible piece of paper but is now a universal abstraction called credit. At the heart of the matter is the individual and corporate need to generate economic growth by creating monetary opportunity. Money only circulates effectively in society if people can trust its value as a medium of exchange for goods and services. If production falters, as it is presently, money can quickly devalue. Ferguson goes well beyond looking at the conventional realms of money as a basic specie to analyzing the inflated world of credit instruments such as bonds, debentures, bills of exchange, stocks, swaps, derivatives, mortgages, and credit cards. While money has expanded to include a variety of uses which have encouraged western civilization to modernize in leaps and bounds, it has come with a terrible price: failure to know when to exercise restraint and moderation in the rush to get rich quickly. It is this excessive behaviour in war, peace, and prosperity that compels many to take incredible risks with their own money and that borrowed from traditional sources like banks. Offsetting every optimistic prospect of making money is the ever-present fear that it could be just as easily lost. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mirror of Mankind Oct. 26 2010
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Previous works from Feguson I have read include Empire and The War of the World but it took me two years after The Ascent of Money was published to get to it. Having now experienced the greatest financial crisis since The Great Depression, I was struck by how prescient Ferguson was when he penned and published this work as the extent of the damage was unimaginable. The line, "Perhaps, too, it will be a financial crisis that signals the twilight of American global primacy." produces chills given the now known historical context.

In his foreward he explains, "As I completed my research for this book in the early months of 2008, it was already a distinct possibility that the US economy might suffer a recession. Was this because American companies had gotten worse at designing new products? Had the pace of technological innovation suddenly slackened? No. The proximate cause of the economic uncertainty of 2008 was financial: to be precise, a spasm in the credit markets caused by mounting defaults on a species of debt known euphemistically as subprime mortgages." He provides entertaining (yet scary) observations of the "ubiquity and proximity of both easy credit and easy bankruptcy" in the US.

The book is divided into money and banking, bond and stock markets, insurance, and property. It is highly readable and would be a great substitute to the dry tomes that are often used in secondary and post-secondary economics and finance classes (the accompanying DVD would make another great teaching aid). Ferguson makes a strong argument for his central thesis: "the ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of man" and that we humans are largely woefully ignorant of finance.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Money Makes the World Go Round Dec 17 2008
By Coach C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The latest book by Harvard professor and popular commentator Niall Ferguson is a historical look at the rise of finance. Ever wonder how the stock market came to be? Exactly how and why did the evolution of credit lead to the rise of civilizations? Could all the world's conflicts be explained by economics? These are the historical questions Ferguson poses and attempts to answer in "The Ascent of Money."

Ferguson's primary purpose for the book is by using economic history to help explain the complexities of modern financial institutions. Why, might you ask is this important? Because the average person knows little to nothing about such simple financial facts such as the interest rate charged by their credit card. Never before, in this globalized, highly coupled world that we live in today, has financial knowledge and a fundamental understanding of financial institutions been more important than it is today. Everyone is affected by world markets, interest rates, and inflation one way or another.

Some reviewers have critiqued the book for its lack of historical breadth, and to some extent I would agree. However, the book is already 350+ pages, and more historical examples would dilute Ferguson's arguments. As ambitious as it is to try to explain such a complicated subject, Ferguson is mostly on the mark. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about the history of finance.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for any biz school geek March 3 2013
Format:Paperback
Basically, the book covers everything you should know about the history of money if you want to understand how we got here . A very serious topic but the writing style is anything but dry. The story of the rise and fall of Venice is fascinating. It is an enjoyable read unlike most finance texts.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A good book for designing a high school course on finance
This book would be an ideal high school text for a course in finance. We are graduating students woefully inadequately prepared to deal with the modern financial world, as no... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Robert C Gunn
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Great book. Huge jump into the history of money and all the corruption that has come with it. Great book highyl recommend.
Published 15 months ago by Danny
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible, Shakespeare, and The Ascent of Money
There are many complimentary things one can say about this remarkable book, and they have all been said ---- collectively and even individually ---- by other reviewer: its sheer... Read more
Published 21 months ago by David M. Goldberg
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Account of History
In providing the history of finance, Niall Ferguson opens a whole new dimension of understanding of the evolution of society. Read more
Published on March 5 2012 by Ila France Porcher
4.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Overview Of Financial History
Ferguson skims over the centuries, and attempts to package together a financial history of the world. Some of the stories will be familiar to the reader, others will be new. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2012 by Patrick Sullivan
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ascent of Money?
The title of the book infers a positive connotation to the development of money. I think the majority of people would agree that we are better off than those of Mesopotamia. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2012 by Mark Eversfield
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
a great read for anyone in the financial services industry or with an interest in history.
Published on Jan. 5 2010 by Joe Riche
2.0 out of 5 stars If Harvard leadership amounts to this much we deserve it all and much...
Ferguson comes up again as an unabashed defender of empire(s), especially those espousing financial capitalism as modus operandi. Read more
Published on May 16 2009 by fCh
5.0 out of 5 stars A swashbuckling tale of... Economics!
This is an exciting book of adventure and international historical intrigue that kept me reading into the night! I'm serious... and I'm an artist, not a business woman. Read more
Published on March 2 2009 by francoise hardy
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