More Than a Numbers Game: A Brief History of Accounting


Since Luca Pacioli wrote the first accounting text back in 1494, thousands of books have been published to explain the how's of accounting—how to value assets, audit financial statements, comply with tax laws, estimate product costs, evaluate corporate performance, and so on. Missing in this journey has been a work that discusses the major why's of accounting practice.

In More Than a Numbers Game: A Brief History of Accounting, author and financial expert Tom King fills this ...

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Since Luca Pacioli wrote the first accounting text back in 1494, thousands of books have been published to explain the how's of accounting—how to value assets, audit financial statements, comply with tax laws, estimate product costs, evaluate corporate performance, and so on. Missing in this journey has been a work that discusses the major why's of accounting practice.

In More Than a Numbers Game: A Brief History of Accounting, author and financial expert Tom King fills this void by examining key issues and events that have transformed accounting from a tool used by American railroad managers to communicate with absent British investors into an enabler of corporate fraud during the Internet and telecom frenzy.

More Than a Numbers Game revolves around a history of ideas associated with accounting's use by U.S. corporations. Each chapter—which explores a controversial accounting topic that has emerged over the past century—is filled with vivid historical background and lively discussions of the people involved, to give relevance to the concepts covered. Simple examples and light humor make complex subjects understandable to the informed layperson.

This book not only examines the purposes and limitations of financial, cost, tax, and regulatory accounting, it also provides context for many of accounting's most divisive issues, including:

  • Management complications that arise from inflation's uneven nature
  • Consequences of managers' fear of showing earnings volatility
  • The unsolved mystery of accounting forinternally developed intangible assets
  • Why debt rose into and then fell out of favor with corporate management and their boards
  • How compensation with options replaced debt as a governance tool in the 1990s
  • How politics hobbled efforts to standardize accounting practice

Through engaging anecdotes, illustrative examples, and real-world case studies, More Than a Numbers Game also reveals how economics, finance, law, and business customs have contributed to accounting's overall development. With this book as your guide, you'll discover that accounting is not a static discipline, but an evolving tool full of idiosyncrasies.

More Than a Numbers Game takes a detailed look at more than one hundred years of corporate accounting history in the United States—from the initial use of double-entry bookkeeping to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)—and shows how accounting has solved numerous financial problems as well as created substantial controversy along the way.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With his solid credentials—a CPA, CMA and Harvard MBA, as well as the current treasurer of Progressive Insurance—King proves himself to be the insider, the historian, the yenta of the accounting profession. More Than a Numbers Gameoffers enough insights to give occasional pause even to those who have a real grasp of the wheres and whys behind the regulations that are dear to the heart of every practitioner." (Journal of Accountancy, May 2007)

"The author is at his best when telling stories, whether of the twists and turns in specific accounting standards from the 1940s to the present, of the accounting transgressions of Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom, and HealthSouth, or of the factors leading to the demise of Arthur Andersen. ... King’s gift for rendering complex ideas into easily understandable explanations, all in a conversational style, makes this book accessible to the general investing public as well.... This refreshing book is a well-researched, well-written, and intelligent explanation of modern-day U.S. accounting and how it has evolved to its present state." (The CPA Journal, April 2007)

"King's chapter on volatility shows how U.S. companies can account for transactions in foreign currencies three different ways, all of them legitimate. His chapter about the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate disclosure laws has an astute analysis of the accounting frauds at Enron and WorldCom that begat that legislation." (Newsweek, April 16, 2007)

"This demystifying book is likely to interest corporate folk who want to understand better the whys of the accounting practices they use, as well as inquiring investors." (Harvard Magazine, November-December 2006)

"Inspired by a 1998 speech by former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, this book addresses the why of accounting instead of the how, providing practitioners and students with a highly readable history of U.S. corporate accounting." (SmartPros Accounting News & Insights, September 2006)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470008737
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/1/2006
  • Series: Wiley Finance Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 631,383
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.17 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS A. KING is treasurer of Progressive Insurance, which is regarded as one of the most innovative companies in the insurance business. He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, and studied liberal arts at Harvard College. King worked for three years on the New York audit staff of Arthur Andersen & Co., earned an MS in accounting from New York University, and obtained CPA and CMA certification. After receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School, he joined Progressive Insurance in Cleveland. King spent ten years in marketing and general management before returning to accounting. Since then, he has served as corporate controller, investment strategist, and treasurer. At Progressive, King helped craft financial policies that support business objectives and managed investor relations when the company became the first to report monthly financial results.

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Table of Contents


List of Figure and Tables.

1. Double-Entry.

2. Railroads.


4. Costs.

5. Disclosure.

6. Standards.

7. Science.

8. Inflation.

9. Volatility.

10. Intangibles.

11. Debt.

12. Options.

13. Earnings.

14. SOX.

15. Epilogue.




About the Author.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A good, short history of accounting in the US

    It explained, in easy-to-follow terms, the history behind the developments in accounting in the United States. It's a high-level overview, so while it won't give you a detailed knowledge of accounting standards, it will put some of them into a historical context (which made it easier for me to follow them). It also touched on some of the accounting "issues" from the late 1990's/early 2000's, but it would have been helpful if it gave a bit more detail behind what those companies did. Overall, it was a nice, compact book.

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