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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Speaks for Itself
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...
Published on Dec 22 2008 by Ian Gordon Malcomson

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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If Harvard leadership amounts to this much we deserve it all and much more to come
Ferguson comes up again as an unabashed defender of empire(s), especially those espousing financial capitalism as modus operandi. So much so that he touches revisionist overtones at times.

Had this been just a history book, however partial, Ascent of Money would have been only half bad. However, Ferguson's ideological positions only add insult to the periodic...
Published on May 16 2009 by fCh


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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Speaks for Itself, Dec 22 2008
By 
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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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. We have now reached a point in history where the expected and projected big growth of the past decades is slowly being replaced by a long-term forecast of lower and even negative growth due to our inability to keep ahead of the investment curve. The traditional power and lure of money may no longer be able to sustain our personal and collective drive to make and keep wealth. Ferguson is one of those big picture historians who fills his writing with lots of interesting stories to make his point. Very informative read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mirror of Mankind, Oct. 26 2010
By 
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant) - See all my reviews
Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (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. And he does this through entertaining tales of our economic history, by bringing clarity to the complex, and by sharing a laugh with us in terms of our economic foibles that are tied more to our humanity than to our financial acumen.

Ferguson call financial markets "the mirror of mankind", and as such, the entire financial system is so complex that he describes it as "non-linear, even chaotic." The book is valuable because it brings a bit of order to that chaos or at least an opportunity for greater understanding.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Money Makes the World Go Round, Dec 17 2008
By 
Coach C (Canada) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible, Shakespeare, and The Ascent of Money, Oct. 13 2012
By 
David M. Goldberg (Toronto, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
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Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Paperback)
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. It presents a solid rationale for the various Occupy Movements that its excesses have provoked, although in themselves they are going nowhere fast. There are obvious solutions to our present predicament that emerge from this book: Nationalization of Banks, Insurance and all “too-big-to fail” organizations is an obvious beginning. Swinging taxes on “speculation” and a recognition that “investment” merits the same rewards as labour, but not more ( therefore equal tax rates), are the next step, and call for clear demarcation between short-term and long-term Capital Gains. Just as essential is abolition of the “Free Market”. A Market, yes, but what we have now is anything but “Free”, except that it is free for criminals to exploit and manipulate and a wonderful opportunity to ruin the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of simple individuals, with rewards in the high millions and punishments that rarely go beyond knuckle-wrapping. A corollary surely has to be the abolition of any distinction between white-collar and blue-collar crime: emotional damage can frequently be an unkinder cut than physical damage. All US political power-brokers and central bankers have abolished strict control of the most fundamental institution over which they should be exercising responsibility in favour of “self-regulation”. So far as I am aware, the Sicilian Mafia is the only self-regulating institution that operates efficiently in fulfilling its stated objectives.
Fergusson hints at these but does not advocate them directly. In this he shows wisdom, since in the hands of most governments, solutions have tended to cause more harm than problems, and enormous care and patience will have to be invested in their implementation. Looking at our world today, it is clear that the same greed, stupidity, rapaciousness and lack of controls are alive and well, and the lessons of Economic History that this book provides are unknown or ignored. It should be compulsory reading for every schoolchild after Shakespeare and the Bible.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A swashbuckling tale of... Economics!, March 2 2009
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. Ferguson did an excellent job of intertwining our current economic crisis with the financial histories he chose to include in his book. It made his subject more relevant, and unfortunately, more perilous.

As a non-business person I learned so much about financial history and contemporary economics, all in an entertaining format. "The Ascent of Money" is must-reading for these times.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Account of History, March 5 2012
Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Paperback)
In providing the history of finance, Niall Ferguson opens a whole new dimension of understanding of the evolution of society. It soon becomes clear that without knowledge of the financial underpinnings of the events that have shaped our civilization, it cannot be properly understood.

The Ascent of Money is a finely researched work which eloquently describes in depth, this facet of our history. After reading it, everyday events suddenly take on new significance, in the light of the economic education thus gained.

If you feel at sea when considering the current financial situation, this book will provide you with an excellent compass!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for any biz school geek, March 3 2013
Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Human History through Financial History, Jan. 6 2015
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Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Paperback)
I bought this book for my father who enjoys history books, particularly financial history and the rise and fall of great mercantile empires. He preferred the book to the TV series by the same name. I enjoyed both as well. Niall Ferguson is an excellent author who crafts a great narrative about how finance has shaped human history.
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If Harvard leadership amounts to this much we deserve it all and much more to come, May 16 2009
By 
Ferguson comes up again as an unabashed defender of empire(s), especially those espousing financial capitalism as modus operandi. So much so that he touches revisionist overtones at times.

Had this been just a history book, however partial, Ascent of Money would have been only half bad. However, Ferguson's ideological positions only add insult to the periodic injury produced by financial capitalism.

Staying with history for a while, the book makes for a quick traversal of modern financial instruments and some of the supporting institutions and ideologies. Assuming the role of historian of finance, Ferguson doesn't seem to worry about proving anything; a narrative from the perspective of the victors, in (t)his case, the Anglo-Saxon financial elites, might do just as well. One comes away with the idea that financial capitalism is better, necessary, and almost always self-sufficient. Moreover, the welfare state should be viewed not only as a half-baked idea of capitalists, but also past its due date by now.

Here are few examples of missing pieces from Ferguson's take one the rise of financial capitalism: Nowhere is the goal of financial capitalism explicitly stated. I would posit that financial markets are supposed to help/guide us to do the best resource allocation (read, optimal) with the idea of maximizing social welfare. The "us" above is the state and voting citizenry, and not the financial elites alone. Without any compass at work, it's easy for the author to ignore the societal costs of financial capitalism--in the UK/US case, the disappearance of production followed by de-professionalization, and misallocation of resources during, and in the aftermath of, bubbles. In other words, if we look only at what financial capitalism creates, in isolation from other countries or its own side effects, Ferguson's book is right on the money. Otherwise, the market as compass is just as accurate as communism.

Ferguson doesn't seem to make much of his own statistics on how much more we spend on, let's say, healthcare and education for much lower returns. In fact, Schumpeter himself, one of the apostles of capitalism, once said that one of our problems in the US was the professional quality, or lack thereof, of our government employees. Hmm, could this have anything to do with how financial capitalism allocates human resources and/or how a society worships the high priests of finance?

In any case, fear not the current crisis, for Ferguson has embarked into the next expedition of financial capitalism as charted by the Harvard behavioral finance-, and MIT's Andrew Lo's financial evolutionist/adaptive markets-hypotheses. He does so by means of the last chapter in the book, a veritable illustration of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. In plain English, it's just the tools and possibly the actors that needed change, provided that the masters, ideology and the fools remain the same.

Rating this book is not easy. It should take 4 stars for the historic part, 2 stars for ideology, and 0 stars for partiality. All in all, for a 2-star book the interested reader may do better to borrow. And, yes, it reads fast and there is plenty of detail surrounded by historical context that make Ascent of Money a decent read.

Nota Bene: Why is it that, in this book, Niall Ferguson writes so dismissively about George Soros' ideas on financial markets reflexivity? Soros has built his fortune also by leveraging the reflexivity he recommends be tamed by adequate understanding and regulation of the financial markets. Unfortunately, Ascent of Money contributes only partially to that understating, and reads little about financial markets regulation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good book for designing a high school course on finance, Oct. 14 2013
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Ce commentaire est de: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Paperback)
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 serious course of this nature is taught. Why is this?
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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson (Paperback - Oct. 27 2009)
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