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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Ascent of Money [DVD] [2008] (Two-Disc Set)
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85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
This is an accessible and extremely useful series which popped up at just the right moment to help unravel exactly what's been going on with the worldwide money markets.
The presentation is clear, concise and occasionally witty, and has really helped us to get to grips with the mysteries of the modern money machine.

Prof Niall Ferguson is an engaging host and an excellent historian who has no trouble demonstrating how the same systems and behaviours affect financial markets, be they in the 1700s or right now. He normally relates each high-falutin' fiscal concept straight back to how it affects the real world.
Most of the six programmes rely heavily on his narrative with footage from around the world, as he explains how money itself began on Babylonian tablets, then how the Medici clan began banking; how the bond market rose and made millionaires of the Rothschild family, and so on.
Inevitably, much of the older material is hard to illustrate and, if you want to rest your eyes for a while, then you can quite easily just listen to the voice-over. The images on screen can be repetitive paintings of the main players, or blurry shots of stock market traders, or strings of meaningless share prices. There are moments when this series would probably work just as well as a radio programme!

However, the core information is fascinating. Ferguson explains how stock bubbles happen and the psychology behind bear and bull markets. He uses recent examples to illustrate historical trends -- such as the rise and fall of Enron. And with the more recent info there are interviews with relevant people which are enlightening and entertaining. And all through each programme, Ferguson underlines an uncomfortable truth: that financial dealings have had major impact on all aspects of global history, from the Dutch East India Company to the Renaissence to the French Revolution -- right up to day. Scary...

So if you'd like to understand more about hedge funds, stocks and shares, limited liability companies, money itself, global banking, reflation and deflation and heaps more -- this is a must-watch.
We've found it to be very enjoyable and extremely informative.

8/10
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2009
The Ascent Of Money [DVD] [2008]
Lively, enjoyable and informative, 'The Ascent of Money' film series accompanying the book is an eloquent and entertaining look at the social and cultural evolution of the world's financial structures over the centuries. The six distinct chapters highlight the history and key concepts of banking, bonds, stocks, insurance, property and global markets in an entertaining tour for a wide audience.
A big Thank you to Niall Ferguson for presenting this very important subject matter to us in an absorbing, vibrant and fun movie series.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2009
I really enjoyed this mini-series which asserts that to understand the state of finances we must look to the past and how financial systems arise. Covering the origins of money, the first banking moguls - the Medici's, and looking at insurance, loans, and the bond market, Ferguson covers it all in a very well presented narrative.
I highly recommend this to anyone in the least bit interested in understanding the fundamentals of how our economy has come to be the way it is, but also the forces that play such a big influence on our lives.
Very good, I'm giving it 10/10!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 February 2011
"Welcome to the world of money", is Niall Fergusons's opening invitation to this six-part series, in which he seeks to guide the financially-illiterate (or simply those of us who are fiscally-challenged) through the origins of such concepts as bonds, companies, and even the concepts of credit and money itself. It only partially achieves its high aims, but Ferguson, in the opening episode, is probably correct to see "financial history as the essential back story to ALL history." Later he will say how "Nothing illustrates more clearly than the history of stock market bubbles how hard human beings find it to learn from history."

Each episode ostensibly attacks the history of some feature of the modern financial world - banks, bonds, companies, insurance, property, and globalisation - but occasionally gets side-tracked along the way. (One major missing feature is an episode on tax, but that would go against the pro-capitalist slant of the series.) At the end of the series he talks of his review looking at the ascent of money over four thousand years "from ancient Mesopotamia to modern China", but the series has virtually nothing to say about the pre-medieval period.

In the first programme, Ferguson travels from Bolivia to Venice to Glasgow to Florence, finally ending up in Memphis, Tennessee to give us the low down on the creation and rise of the banks. In the rest of the series he touches down also in Amsterdam, Paris, China and Japan, as well as New York and Detroit. Ferguson seems to have a fondness for the South Americans with much coverage of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.

And along the way he gets to meet and talk superficially and all-too-briefly to the likes of Bill Gross (CEO of Pimco, the world's largest bond trader), Sharon Watkins (formerly of Enron), and George Soros. But it was not a nice sight to see Ferguson fawning to members of the Rothschild family. Indeed, one felt that Ferguson often held all these financial bigwigs and whizz-kids in too high a regard to be truly critical and objective. It is for this reason that I did not take what he has to say about Allende and Chile at face value, but at least Ferguson is up front about Thatcher's selling of council houses "turning malcontents into conservatives", "creating a political constituency for capitalism", thus tying the masses to the system through debt.

There are also the odd statements made for dramatic effect. For example, Ferguson tells us, "If you put a thousand guiders into the [Dutch East India] Company at its inception, by 1736 your investment would have been worth seven thousand." But this takes no account of the fact that, due to the time scales involved, (a) you would be dead and (b) you would have to take account of inflation (although admittedly an average annual dividend of 16.5% is good).

One major criticism that this reviewer felt was that there could have been more explanation for some of the basic concepts involved, that there is not enough of the hidden logic explained. Hedging, derivatives, and options were only cursorily explained, which is odd for a programme with an aim to educate the financially-ignorant. So we should have had more of the blackboard and chalk and less of the smart visuals. Having said that, full marks should go to the production team for coming up with some interesting footage to accompany the narrative. There is some intriguing filmwork here involving cameras at odd angles and manipulations of film speeds.

Whilst one might agree or disagree with much of what he has to say, Ferguson has nevertheless done a service in bringing matters to the attention of those elements of the electorate who felt (and continue to feel) bamboozled and betrayed by recent events on global financial markets. But now the `shock' is apparently over, it is valid to ask what all the fuss was about as nothing fundamental seems to have changed in the world's finance systems to prevent another credit-crunch happening further down the line in the next generation; a generation that will know enough about maths, but not enough about history.

Alas, there are no extras on this DVD.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2011
You can just type in "economics" into amazon's Film & TV search bar and the lack of tangible results tell their own story - quite extraordinary on the surface of things. Niall Furguson's Ascent of Money starts very well, but as it gets closer to modern economic history there is a strange lack of information about certain key-events; the Treaty of Versailles, Keynes, Hayek, 1944 Bretton-Woods, the economic dominance of America post WWII and what prompted the US to come off the Gold Standard in 1971's Nixon Shock, what is a reserve currency, backgrounds into the Arab-oil embargo of the 1970's, petrodollars, the Dollar as the Reserve currency and the Military Keynesianism of the Cold War world and beyond (comparative advantages: socialized military spending goes hand-in-hand with socialized R&D = privatised profit).

Worst of all is his treatment of the sub-prime borrowers who are seen as the source of the problem rather than the de-regulated markets that led to riskier loans and the property bubble being created in the first place! Nothing of substance on Alan Greenspan's post 9/11 low-interest rate policy in the USA and how that helped drive a property bubble within a deficit financing economy. We also miss the explanation as to why the credit agencies bundled up the bad Toxic Assets with the Triple-A securities and then sold them off to foreign governments and councils who buy them unaware that they have been sold assets at serious risk of default. Collateralized debt obligations were the real culprit here, and as with the derivatives market there are more detailed sources of information (see Gillian Tett's: Fool's Gold, for a sober and orthodox treatment). I would go so far to say that this program seems rushed on these points, although I commend Niall for his treatment of the Bonds markets.

More important is the answer to this question; How is the USA going to meet it's balance of payments? If the USA, an economic juggernaut with the power of its reserve currency status, pays for all its imports by selling treasury bills (debt) to the rest of us, so that in essence the USA can finance its exchange of raw materials and manufactured produce by exporting treasury bills (paper) to the producers (who are limited as to how they use T-bills on US soil, naturally) - how long will it be before the stock market crashes again? We already see signs of a commodities bubble emerging in the agricultural produce, oil and metals markets.

Niall Furguson's Ascent of Money (obviously a nod to J. Branowski's charming The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD]) could have been more accurately called The Ascent of Debt. There are good parts but you sense that Furguson operates within the confines of a Neo-Liberal ideological framework - at one point Chile is mentioned (and Milton Friedman) but we are not going to see any correlation to Pilger's The War On Democracy [DVD] here, instead the victims are dismissed as "communists and left-wingers" a few thousand of which were killed, and tens of thousands tortured but in the main Chile is doing quite well. It seemed to me a bizarre apologia; the silver cloud of Chile's economic success slightly tarred by a grey-lining of slaughter, torture and terror.

If we apply geopolitics to our view of the world (see, Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)) we find that the world is vastly more complicated than the so-called "popular geopolitics", espoused by representatives of power structures, who dictate a comfortingly simplistic view of the world - one that can be easily grasped and discussed around the "water-cooler" by ordinary citizens for five minutes, before talking about the latest game, film or celebrity sensation.

For more information try Adam Curtis (the Mayfair set, Pandora's Box: The League of Gentlemen, etc), the as mentioned Money As Debt 1 and 2 (Double DVD Set) *Free Super Saver Delivery*,Bad Money by Kevin Phillips, Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe by Gillian Tett, The Financial Times (the daily encyclopedia for financial news, and less subjective reporting than any other paper - taking into account certain neo-liberal tendencies) and suitable academic reference texts: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History: 5 volumes: print and e-reference editions available and Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010 (32 volume) have much more informative (if not always truly objective) articles relating to these subjects and much more besides.

The Ascent of Money is a major landmark in one respect; in the way it trys to bring excitement to "the dismal science" of economics - but, as I have tried to highlight, there are some important elements missing which, in my humble opinion, should not have been left out.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2009
I found the Ascent of Money to be an excellent historical read about the history of not only cash as we know it but all the major financial products including how lending and investing came about and of course the great financial disasters (bubbles). If you have ever made a poor investment (we all have at some time) then you can seek solace in the fact that our ancestors were just as prone to gaffs as we are and their tales are well documented in this book. If you are looking for a get rich quick book or the latest stock tips then this is certainly not the book for you. If however you are interested in understanding what money really is, where it came from and how it has diversified into the multitude of financial products that are available nowadays then you won't go far wrong in investing in Prof Niall's book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 August 2013
This six part DVD presentation is an entertaining and informative examination of money and its close cousins-loans,bonds,shares and credit default swops and the like.Niall Ferguson is a personable presenter and is never far from a quip or telling comment.The series is handsomely shot and it all moves along very smoothly. Ferguson's main message is a simple one. We have been here before. Depressions, Recessions,booms and growth are all part of how markets work. Markets reflect Human nature. When we feel optimistic we borrow, spend and risk freely. When alarm bells ring, we head, herd -like to the exit. In this way markets fluctuate. Prices change and as a result asset values and our view of the future changes, sometimes with dire consequences.

Ferguson explores the origins and use of money:from simply being a store of value and a mechanism for enabling trade to a way of extending credit and capital good formation to hedging against risk. Finally, as a way profiteering by simply moving in and out of various asset classes or forms , such as national currencies. He further examines the way that money has become ever more useful and influential. From funding regional and international trade and wars in Medieval times to helping governments to fund social and infrastructure projects. Not forgetting the way in which the availability of capital has allowed businesses grow from simple locally based operations to have the potential for a presence in World markets. Financial markets simply link those with money with those who would like to use it. As financial markets have grown in size and scope there is no area of modern life that they do not affect. From the value of pensions and savings to the soundness of banks and the ability of governments to fund their activities, financial markets and they way they try to create value and mitigate risk are at the core of modern capitalist society. Of course when financial markets crash, we are all vulnerable. People lose their homes and livelihoods,firms go bust and governments tumble.

As a introduction to the role of markets and as a review of economic history, this series is first rate. Where I have to part company with the good professor is that he somewhat too glib about how events such as the recent sub-prime market melt-down or the Asian crisis of the late 90's.Economists might see tumbling share prices,failed banks or collapsed exchange values as a way of markets readjusting themselves after a period of over -exuberance but forgets the effect on 'real' people. 'Real' people the World over,lose out big time and often as taxpayers end up paying for the mischievousness, corruptness or blind optimism of market makers who frequent end up heading into the sunset with their profits.Also, he passes over rather too easily the role of the World Bank and the IMF as a proxy for American influence in South America,read Chile as a classic example. Even countries like Argentina and Mexico have suffered grievously at the hands of financial markets even when their governments have acted responsibly. Finance is a form of 'soft' power as gunboats in the 19th Century were forms of 'hard power'. It can be a way waging war. As Ferguson warns us, China keeps America afloat with funding and as a supplier of cheap goods. How soon will this dependency turn to resentment or worse?

Apart from these few observations, recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 April 2011
From the publishing stand to the DVD market this is a clean transference of what you could be reading if you enjoy books such as Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,The Undercover Economist or The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything.

For what its worth is it a great feature, you could easily watch the entire thing from beginning to end in a single sitting and it will hold your attention. The content is not too difficult as to require any grounding and it will appeal to the general viewer and the more financially or economically (even historically to be honest) informed viewer (although you will have a different viewing experience I suspect).

It charts the rise of money from the earliest days of inscriptions on clay tablets promising to pay the barer measures of grain (simply wonderful!), through the invention of loans, credit, interest and associated culture shifts (Shylocks and anti-semitism), to the creation of banking, multinationals, the stock exchange, the creation of hedge funds and some (though not quite as much as I would have liked) explanation of the most recent financial crisis.

The fundamental point is made at the outset that financial history underpins much else and the relationship between politics and finance is a constant theme. Its annoying as a result that there seems to be such obvious bias and some skirting myophia, so you get lots of screen time familiarising viewers with Milton Friedmann and Pinochet but not much time spent considering Keynesianism or public planning.

There's the usual comment that socialists, or rather poor people, owe their prosperity to the very things they critcise and that all welfare regimes will ultimately be insolvent and unsustainable (to be honest I was surprised to content about Japan's welfarist innovations and the coining of phrases about the welfare-warfare state, its something I associate with the paleo-conservative fringe of US political culture). This content alongside reportage of simply phenomenonal earnings by private individuals who speak about their personal capacities to determine the fate of entire economies.

The overwhelmingly positive appraisal of finance history is mitigated only by some slight featuring of Enron, some comment about unexpected or unintented consequences and irrational exuberance or depressive lows, human all to human characteristics of actors in the game which spoil an otherwise perfect apparatus. This disappointed me in the same way that the pop-economic publishing does, seeming ultimately to lack much depth or critical thinking. Good viewing and it passes the time but nothing sensational.
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Excellent series on the history of money to the point of the global collapse which really started to impact from 2010 for the next 5 years. Suddenly a world I had not paid much attention to as an adult opened up making me realise how they play Russian roulette with our lives and how had I been aware of this info I could have been more prepared for the crash. It won't be for everyone but everyone should be aware. I've seen a few others and take much more interest. It's a difficult world to keep abreast of as it changes so fast but this will give you heighten knowledge that will make you pay more attention to key changes that hit the main stream news and pay attention when you need to. It's delivered in a way that holds your interest but it takes over 6 to 8 hours of watching to get the whole story I would recommend setting the time aside to watch it in a day or two that her than adhoc.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2010
Since the start of the current economic crisis, I've come to realise that despite a 'good' education, I had been entirely under-educated when it comes to economics and the financial system on which we all depend. So I was delighted to receive this set of DVDs as a gift at Christmas. However, I have been educating myself on our financial system fairly intensively for the past year or so, which means that, although this is an interesting set of DVDs, there is much which it does NOT discuss which I feel it should.

As an example, we're told that usury was initially forbidden by the Christian religion, as it was considered to be a sin to charge interest on loans. We're told that the Jewish religion also considered usury to be a sin BUT with a get-out clause that it was OK to charge interest on loans to non-brothers ... e.g. Christians, so Jewish money-lenders quickly became rich as a result. Presumably at some point in history this "sin" was withdrawn by the Christian church ... but when did it happen? Who made it happen? Why did they make the change? How was the change made? This was such a key turning point in the history of money that I'm frustrated that this was skipped over in the DVDs. The reason WHY it was first considered a sin (and still is, I believe, in the Muslim religion) was not discussed either.

So, for a wide-ranging introduction to some of the mechanisms of the evolution of the current money system it is interesting, but raises as many questions as answers. Similarly the discussions on short-selling, options and derivatives -which have done so much to make a few people very VERY rich while simultaneously destroying the value of pension funds and the currencies of nations - left me confused as to the exact mechanisms by which they work. At no time in the DVDs was there any debate on the morality of these modern economic products.

In contrast, the short films "Money as Debt" and "Money as Debt 2" give a clear, unambiguous and easy to view explanation of the reason why the charging of interest on loans could be considered sinful, and at the same time, point to the explanation why some people will always default on loans - because the system demands it - and most importantly, explain why the future deeper and more painful economic crisis looms - and seems to be inevitable.

So, overall "The Ascent of Money" is an interesting but rather frustrating DVD, as much for what it doesn't say, as for what it does.
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