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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World [Paperback]

Niall Ferguson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Jun 2009

Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot. Call it what you like, it matters now more than ever. In The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson shows that finance is the foundation of all human progress and the lifeblood of history.

From the cash injection that funded the Italian Renaissance to the stock market bubble that sparked the French Revolution, from the bonds that fuelled Britain's war effort to the Wall Street Crash and today's meltdown, this is the story of boom and bust as it's never been told before.

Whether you're scraping by or rolling in it, there's no better time to understand the ascent of money.

Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Jun 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 014103548X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035482
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Product Description


The hardback publication of Niall Ferguson's book was prophetic, but this edition - topped and tailed with a passionate, closely argued call for us to educate ourselves about financial markets - could not be more timely (Tony Clements Telegraph )

Dazzling ... extraordinarily timely (Martin Vander Weyer Spectator )

A whistle-stop tour of the historical events that gave us the financial system we have today ... To Niall Ferguson's list of talents we can now add great timing (Stephanie Flanders Mail on Sunday )

Ferguson is the most brilliant British historian of his generation ... he writes with splendid panache (Times )

Ferguson's powers are on formidable display (Tristram Hunt Observer )

Wonderfully accessible ... Ferguson is spot on (Allister Heath Literary Review )

A fine history ... told with verve and insight (Daily Telegraph )

One of the world's leading historians (Hamish McRae Independent )


`Niall Ferguson has written a fascinating, accessible, and important book that lives up to its rather grandiose title ... It goes from cowrie shells to mortgage-backed securities, and everything in between ... this is an exceptional book.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 77 people found the following review helpful
By Steve Keen TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Niall Ferguson again here brings us a history that is informative, entertaining and sobering. Being published in the midst of a global economic meltdown, for a book such as this, is a mixed blessing, as a step too far on the bearish side may make the author look like a doommonger, whilst being even slightly bullish might look blinkered. Ferguson, though, seems to manage to pull it off, though that equally is a spot evaluation. However, though it's clear where his loyalties lie in the pro/anti capitalism debate, the balance of the narrative tends nevertheless towards the various shocks delivered to the system rather than towards the prosperity delivered, albeit still strictly speaking to a relative minority of humanity, by markets and their lubricant, money.

As it turned out, some of the ground covered was familiar territory to me, bringing together strands of other books I've read recently, including Findlay and O'Rourke's Power And Plenty, Bentley's A Book Of Numbers, Schama's The American Future and even Lonely Planet Andalucia.

But some of it was new. He gives the origins of ghetto (a geto was a casting, and the original ghetto was in Venice's foundry district); explains that a consol gets its name from "consolidated fund"; and confirms that "dollar" comes from the German "thaler", on which the Spanish based the piece of eight, the world's first truly global currency.

Ferguson is also adept at telling stories: his account of the First Opium War, for example, is probably the clearest I've come across, and in the chapter on housing there is an excellent explanation of how the development of securitisation by Salomons ultimately led to the sub-prime meltdown.

He's not always right.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
By Misty
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent broad history of our financial system - covering the development of bond & stock markets, our obsession with property as an investment and more. What makes this a 5 star read is linking historical events to our current predicament - both as examples of how things how gone wrong before and as direct causes of the latest credit crunch. Of course given it's breadth it can only touch on many topics, but for those areas where I have read more fulsome accounts (such as Enron, LTCM) I found his summaries to be very pertinent.

The accounts of various bubbles and crashes are interesting and somewhat comforting - the finance world seems to be phoenix-like in its ability to collapse and re-generate so maybe we are not without hope, however in his description of 'Chimerica' you do wonder if we are at the beginning of a new age, the transfer of power to a new owner...too early to say perhaps?

What is less comforting are the parallels he draws with pre-WW1 complacency that there could never be a global war because countries were too interdependent financially for this to be in anyone's interests, it's a chilling thought as he describes how future historians could look back and see the root causes today, just as current historians do today for WW1.

Overall I'd say this is a great introduction to some complex topics, and even where the explanations were a bit mind-boggling (still don't get interest rate swaps!) this doesn't detract from the flow of the story. Two things would be a great addition to this book - a glossary of some of the financial terms and a selected bibliography for further reading.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining Review of Financial History 13 Jan 2009
By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This book accompanied the Channel Four television series of the same name, and apart from a few areas where more detail is given, sticks very closely to the series. Ferguson covers very early days of using money and then gets going on money lending (it was against the principles of the Catholic Church) and hence carried out by Jews in the first ghetto (or foundry) in Venice. He progresses to bonds and the fortunes generated by Nathan Rothschild betting against government bonds after the defeat of Napoleon. Then stocks or shares are considered and the early problems with schemes that resulted in investment 'bubbles', the leading role of the Netherlands and the Dutch East India Company, the colossal swindles of John Law running a pyramid scheme in France with the Mississippi Company and the foundation of New Orleans. The failure of insurance companies in really big disasters and the growth of national insurance schemes. It is here that the role of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys and the very successful Chilean system of private managed state pension and insurance schemes are described, all under the rule of President Pinochet. This is a system of save-as-you-go rather than pay-as-you-go used in Western European democracies. The risk of investing in property is discussed, generally with a view to showing that there is more risk than supposed, an argument that I think is rather overdone especially for a country like Britain that has a net immigration surplus and, therefore, a built in pressure on housing. Finally the present inter-relationship between American borrowing and Chinese lending is reviewed and their apparent interdependence suggested. On the whole the book is entertaining and has something of a 'Gee Whiz' feel about it. It is not a financial textbook and is not the place to find convincing explanations for some of his assertions, indeed a few explanations are somewhat muddled.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars hidtory
Excellent read
Published 1 month ago by gary carr
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read with ample insight for today's markets
Though historical in nature, it provides a good overview of how credit fueled crisis have occurred throughout history and how we can assume that they will continue to occur.
Published 3 months ago by Adam Tamburello
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
Another interesting book from Mr Ferguson. I find myself disagreeing with some of his views.
I would point out the following .. p. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. Stephen Parkin
3.0 out of 5 stars lacks deep understanding of money!
Mr Ferguson writes fluently and tells a good story and there are plenty of good stories here.. however he has completely failed to understand how our money system really works and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Leanne Martel
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly but accessible
As well as his privileged learners at Harvard, Niall Ferguson has succeeded in reaching the layman through his TV shows and books. Read more
Published 5 months ago by LXIX
2.0 out of 5 stars Complete waste of time
...unless you like right-wing nonesense and don't mind reading hundreds of pages of it.

Ferguson singularly fails to explain how modern banking works or even anything... Read more
Published 5 months ago by alfa_brk
5.0 out of 5 stars a good and clear exposition of a complex subject
An excellent review of the issues expressed in relatively simple language. It's a subject that needs such an explanation even more today than when the book was first written. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D Driscoll
4.0 out of 5 stars Money
A very interesting book about money and its place in history. Not everyone's favourite reading, but it does open one's eyes
Published 8 months ago by WLRS
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and readable - and I learned something too!
This book really surprised me. I was bought it for my birthday and initially thought "uh, someone has bought me a history book I'll never read. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Alex
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile read
Much of value; as with other things this author, last 20% somewhat disappointing as he doesn't finish the story fully.
Published 11 months ago by anne hyatt king
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