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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Paperback – 5 Apr 2012

104 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718194004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718194000
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,540 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

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 82 people found the following review helpful By therealus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 28 Dec. 2008
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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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Misty on 30 Jan. 2009
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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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Jan. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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