The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World: 10th Anniversary Edition

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World: 10th Anniversary Edition

by Niall Ferguson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440654022
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/13/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 48,308
File size: 29 MB
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Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of the world's most renowned historians. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, Civilization, The Great Degeneration, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, and The Square and the Tower. He is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. His many awards include the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010), the Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2012) and the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism (2013).

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" 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

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Ascent of Money 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Niall Ferguson has published another sweeping book, this time in his purported field of expertise in financial history, not in political economic history, where he had most famously written 'The War of the World.' For that one must be grateful, since his neo-imperialistic views, sensational support of empires and subjugation, and controversial justifications of Nazism, were just too jarring.

Here he makes an ambitious attempt to tell the whole story of finance. It begins in Mesopotamia and ends in the credit crisis of 2008. The title is a play off the title of Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man. Overall it is a considerably worse book than Birth of Plenty by William Bernstein, and even more so when compared to Empire of Wealth, a recent book on economic history. It cannot replace Peter Bernstein's trilogy, including Against the Gods, Gold and Capital Ideas. It lacks the details of Vincent Carruso's Investment Banking in America or other detailed tales of financial history. Yet it lacks synthesis too, certainly when compared to Birth of Plenty or Bernstein's trilogy.It is worth buying though, hence the 4 stars, but only for a quick jog through history, not for an understanding of it.

The book does not delve deep into the details, which is its weakness. It does not give a bird's eye view either, because the vignettes he chooses, the facts he emphasizes, and the stories he stresses are generally the unimportant ones. That flaw is not only true of ancient finance, about which he may not be an expert, but also so of medieval and modern financial history, an area in which he should have better selected the stories he chose to emphasize.

What the author ends up doing is overemphasizing stories about the Rothschilds, who he covered in a bio years ago, or about current events, including ones about the current credit crisis, which seems oddly placed (and likely added at the last minute, once the markets collapsed and the book likely appeared too optimistic). There are at least two references to the compensation of Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, anecdotes which would be out of place in any serious history of finance. Then there are the detailed discussions about some obtuse scandal in Britain but hardly the same space to Enron or Milken or other scandals which have plagued history.

Not only is the selection of stories poorly done but the level of the narrative also fluctuates between sweeping statements unsupported by the facts (a habit of Niall Ferguson) or minute details about this or that, very often irrelevant to boot, leaving the book appear put together in a hurry (which too is a longstanding weakness of the author). There is the mathematical formula of the Black-Sholes, which seems out of place in a short history of finance, and especially so since the author claims he does not even understand what it means. The points made could surely have been driven home without the formula.

Third and worst still is the decision of the author (or his research assistant) to summarize issues into five or six bullet points, a la a McKinsey presentation. This occurs in several places, with paragraph headings (!) and summaries, a style unsuitable for a history book, and truly not even used by newspapers. One does not buy a book to rush through issues in bullet points!

Fourth, the author has tacked onto the end of the book a note about the Descent of Finance. Clearly he does so to tone down the story, to fit the current collapse
Amanda_Barry More than 1 year ago
you are like me, the recent financial crisis has forced you to rethink what money is, how it works, and how global economic trends affect when and how currency moves about. This timely book explains the origin and growth of money, banks, stock markets.

Ferguson shows us that the typical Wall Street logic of looking back the twenty or thirty years only the most experienced investors lived through is not enough to improve our current position. Ferguson says the only way to solve our financial crisis is to put the origin of money and financial strain in its proper historical context. It is far too late to be discussing expensive houses and cheap credit. We need to look way way back to understand the wreckage of banks, brokers and hedge funds that litters the markets. He shows us that looking back is the way to know what to do next. Otherwise, it'll be another new bubble down the road that leaves us scratching our heads after it pops.

Read Ferguson's book and you'll better understand the possibilities for disaster inherent in the loose credit and securitization of bad debt from which so much money was made before the crisis unfolded. His grasp of history vindicates his profession and brings an understated beauty to money.

The other book I read this week that I also recommend very strongly is The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. Let's just say it makes it a little easier for me to watch the market, and in a little better mood around my husband when I come home from work :)
JesseJ07 More than 1 year ago
I picked up The Ascent of Money on a whim, not knowing who Niall Ferguson is or what other books he's written I figured a history lesson on financial systems could make for an interesting read. Overall, it was interesting. Ferguson gives a terrific overview of the history of finance, roughly from the 17th century through to today, and presents the various achievements of different regions in a mostly chronological order, only breaking chronology a few times to connect events which he does superbly. The beginning of the book presented much new information to me that I found to be very intriguing; I have always viewed the history of finances and money as something that would be confusing to me and difficult to sort out, but here in The Ascent of Money Ferguson has done the research and made a cohesive textbook worthy lesson of financial history. What bothers me about this book is the commentary, sometimes cloaked in ambiguity, which is sprinkled throughout the book and especially in the later chapters. Ferguson does a good job showing the disasters that loose credit and fiat money can cause in an economic system but fails to apply his own lesson while analyzing the great depression, S&L crisis, or our current economic crises. He seems to gloss over fractional reserve banking as merely part of the evolution and "the ascent of money" thus neglecting its fraudulent nature. The strangest thing to me is that throughout the book's lessons there seemed to be some very easy diagnoses to the various disasters discussed that Ferguson almost missed completely- that is the cause was various governments meddling in the supply and control of money. Some of the time Ferguson did make this observation, although scantily analyzing it, but seems to think that when war broke and one financial system usurped another that was the end of the story- even though another economic disaster came after that for similar reasons. There is hardly any discussion on gold, and none on how a commodity based monetary system could have loosed the stranglehold oppressive regimes had on their subjects or prevented or minimized the economic damage. It's very possible that I let my own bias interfere with my enjoyment of this book. As I said, the history lesson was great and much needed for me; but the commentary made the book quite frustrating toward the end. My own bias may have further been exacerbated by Ferguson's own bias- that is, of all the economists and schools of thought sited throughout The Ascent of Money there is a very noticeable lack of a certain set of economists. Nowhere in the book are the names Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and F.A. Hayek introduced, nor is the Austrian school of economics even uttered. By citing Keynes/Krugman numerously or Friedman some, Ferguson gives a very one sided analysis outside of his own- and his entire exclusion of the Austrian school economists, of whom Hayek won the Nobel Prize for his contribution of business cycle theory, leaves one to question how much more interesting or important this book could have been. If you're looking for a book to help you understand the current crises we face, and who to blame, do not look here- this is just a good history lesson and not a whole lot more- you should read Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse by Tom Woods. I recommend reading Power and Market:
JSIII More than 1 year ago
An "In the beginning..." to present day tour of the evolution of the exchange medium we call money. The story also expands to cover banking and the insurance industry to round out the perspective. Ferguson has the gift of engaging narrative that compels you to take this historical journey with him. You will have fun but will also learn about world events and culture as they were and are affected by banking and finance. You will not look at national and international events the same way again once you understand the nexus between these events and money.
wbc3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a fascinating look at the development of money from shells to coins to paper money to today¿s complex financial instruments such as the famed credit default swaps at the center of the recent financial meltdown. All of these are levels of abstraction that allow for easier transactions. Without them, we would be trying to pay for our iPhones with carts full of grain. What Ferguson does is walk through the development of these financial innovations and show how they happened, how they work, and the impact each had on history. I enjoyed the book, but it was at times a bit of a chore to read. If you like history and would like to learn more about finance, this book is worth reading.
vidra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book after watching BBC documentary from same author. There are lots of facts presented in understandable and logical manner. Great book for financial education. Last part, prologue, added recently is explaining problems running in monetary world during financial crisis of 2008 with fine explanations of mistakes people are doing in their research and analysis which is worth of book alone.I would like that author tried to incorporate Veblen thoughts more into this work although he is citing Veblen in this book. Veblen theories of conspicuous consumption would increase quality of explanations in chapters about houses and Chinamerica.
slothman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good look at the history of finance and the role it has played in history since the development of bond markets. This isn¿t as much of a big-idea book as James Burke¿s Connections or Jared Diamond¿s Guns, Germs, and Steel, but it provides another valuable perspective on many historical events, so I¿m shelving it next to those volumes. It also shows the benefits of financial markets when they operate well, which is a good counterbalance to some of the general outcry against capitalism as a reaction to the excesses of the bad deregulation in the 1980¿2007 period.
solla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished [The Ascent of Money] by [Niall Ferguson]. Ferguson says that the purpose of this book is to educate. He quotes a number of statistics about widespread ignorance of financial matters. He also makes a statement that rather than being "filty lucre", money is the root of most progress.I'd say he does a decent job in the first few chapters just in introducing various financial ideas. It begins by talking about the start of banking systems. He points out how Spain's extraction of gold from Peru was a mixed blessing, because, even if it the money supply is gold, the expansion of the money supply still devalues the currency. And, because they were rolling in gold, Spain got left behind in other developments.What will probably stick with me is the story about the Dutch East India company, the first, or one of the first, stock corporations, and how it spread the risk, and produced a decent return for a long time.He goes on to do a pretty good job of explaining why bond prices can fluctuate depending on risk, and what hedge funds are. I have to admit, that, by that time, I was anxious for the book to end. There was so much going on at the end, as it got into more recent events, that I was overwhelmed. This is probably because I am not really very interested in the financial markets in themselves.What I am interested in (and had some hope in the early chapters that Ferguson might address) is how you can have an economic system with some of the benefits of a modified capitalism - which I see as the fluency of money as a means of exchange, and being able for some at least to accumulate some capital to do some creative things - and yet not be locked into the boom/bust cycle. In other words the boom/bust cycle could be described as having to consume for the economy to be healthy - by healthy I mean providing a livlihood to the great mass of people, and providing a means for them to develop themselves (as opposed to making a killing). Not only do we have to consume, so the economy won't contract, but even that is not enough to ensure that there aren't huge groups of people unable to live adequately while others have more wealth than they could ever use.We're told the health of the economy is affected by the health of the automobile industry, yet I want people to buy fewer cars. We should have fewer cars, and better ways of getting around. We need an economic system that allows for less consumption for some, and more for those whose basic needs are not being met now. I want to read books by people who are beginning to puzzle out what that system is.While this book wasn't that, it did give some pretty clear explanations of some basic financial institutions and some of their history. It's worth a read, but don't feel bad if you abandon it somewhere in the middle.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Money Makes the World Go RoundThe 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.While I think Ferguson does an admirable job in explaining such complex subjects such as mortgage-backed securities or credit-default swaps, I still think that anyone who does not have a Econ 101 or Fin 101 will still have problems following these inherently difficult to understand topics. Ferguson's writing, thank goodness, does not contain the snobbery that sometimes comes across when he appears as a commentator.As for the historical content, I think Ferguson is a little selective in some of the topics he chooses. As one would expect, Lord Rothschild is used throughout the book as an example to explain the rise of debt worldwide. There are detailed accounts of the rise and fall of Argentina, the American Civil War, the French Revolution, and much more.Regarding Ferguson's philosophy. He appears to be a pragmatic neoliberal. He is a proponent of free-trade, but for example he writes that "of all the lessons to have emerged from this collective effort... inept or inflexible monetary policy in the wake of a sharp decline in asset prices can turn a correction into a recession and a recession into a depression." (p. 163). Ferguson takes exception with the Keynesians like Stiglitz and Krugman but while at the same time exploring the relative benefits of Milton Friedman's Chicago School "Washington Consensus". He describes Chile's economy as the shining star in Latin America following Pinochet while passing judgment over the massive human costs. And finally, he places the primary blame on Alan Greenspan for his "loose" monetary policy for the current crisis we find ourselves in.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.
nscocozzo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well written history of the development of financial history, The Ascent of Money, does a great job to explain how our current economic system grew up. It is very detailed in coverage, but doesn't go into every detail of financial history by only going over the big concepts over time - banking, debts, equities, risk, future/derivatives, real estate. The reader will definitely get a heavy Anglo-centric view of the world, specifically in discussing modern times. It would have been nice to bring in over happenings or the lack of happenings into the picture to give the full idea of how financial development affects nations.Highly recommended. You will not be disappointed.
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