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Throughout history, no metal has inspired as much fascination, desire, reverence -- and just plain trouble -- as gold. People have risked their lives and plundered other societies for it, set it as a standard of value, and used it to gain power -- but for what? It is rare, difficult to mine, and too soft to be useful for anything other than adornment, but throughout the centuries, gold has not lost its luster for mankind. In a captivating new audiobook, Peter L. Bernstein explores this mesmerizing metal -- its history, and the history of those who have fallen under its spell -- and asks, what is the power of gold?
As in his acclaimed last book, Against the Gods, which examined how risk advanced science and enterprise into the world as we know it, Bernstein looks at gold throughout the ages, examining not only the character of the metal itself and mankind's reaction to it, but also how the hunger and reverence for it has actually propelled us into our social and economic situation of modern times. From the dental work of the Egyptians to the hard-bitten gold standard of the 20th century; from the hallowed halls of Kublai Kahn's mint, as witnessed by Marco Polo, to the stacks of gold bars housed by many nations in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York -- Bernstein describes in fascinating detail the economic, social, and religious impact gold has had around the world. Beginning with the uses of gold in global religions, Bernstein examines how the sheer beauty of gold first inspired the hearts of mankind. He also explores gold in our myth -- from Jason and the golden fleece to Midas and his golden touch.
Its more mystical qualities established, Bernstein then traces the evolution of gold as a monetary object and how it spawned the development of coin and paper money -- from the first pressed gold coin to dinars, duckets, and dollars. Along the way, we get fascinating glimpses of what men have been driven to for gold's sake, including Pisarro's and Columbus's explorations of the New World and the glorious bounty of the Incas and their rapid downfall in the face of the trade routes of the Spanish Main.
Ultimately, Bernstein leads us into modern times, for a good, long look at the role gold has played in the evolution of our modern global economy, how the gold standard was seen as a solution to international trade, or as William Jennings Bryan said, "a cross of gold" upon which mankind would be "crucified." And although the latter sections of the audiobook are more suited to readers with some background in finance or economics, it's still a fascinating look for any interested reader as well.
Asking important questions about greed and how far we will go for it, Peter L. Bernstein looks at gold as a propelling force throughout the ages, and what it has come to mean for us as an object of desire and an end in and of itself, rather than an object of beauty -- or a monetary means for satisfying the basic human needs. In The Power of Gold, he has written a spellbinding audiobook that -- for history buffs and financial kingpins alike -- is worth its weight in gold.
Elise Vogel is a freelance writer living in New York City.