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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Paperback – Oct 27 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (Oct. 27 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116172
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 440 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


" 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

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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Dec 22 2008
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER on Oct. 26 2010
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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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Coach C on Dec 17 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David M. Goldberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Oct. 13 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 readability, its humour, the clarity of the writing, the richness of its amazing anecdotes, the care with which the major statements are verified by references and footnotes, the comprehensive account of the subject that is structured into sections that flow logically from one to the next, and above all the mastery of his material exhibited by the author. Those who have withheld a star or more have most often done so because of accusations of bias, alleging that Ferguson is soft on capitalism and is too willing to make excuses for its excesses. Nothing can be further from the truth. He does justify the invention of money, and documents the myriad problems its existence has solved and the great advantages it has brought to trade and commerce and the growth of civilization in our time. He also shows how indispensible and irreplaceable it is, and surely he is right, as no economic system ----- not any form of socialism or communism ----- has been able to do without it. Thus, money in itself, is politically neutral, a tool that can be used for good or evil. The same can be said of almost all great inventions that have initially advanced the human race. Think of the poisonous effects of Television, the Internet, and drugs created to ease human suffering for a mere start.
The root of all evil is Man, not Money. This is made amply clear by Ferguson with case histories of fraudulent behavior bringing enormous rewards and little in the way of punishment. The overwhelming response to this book is a disgust and hatred for Western Capitalism and the Free Market economy on which it is based.
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