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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Paperback – 4 Jun 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014103548X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035482
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 316,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
The title of this book makes quite a claim. Niall Ferguson is a Harvard University professor from the UK, who produced a volume on the story of the Rothschild financial dynasty in the late 1990s, The book certainly has a number of interesting features e.g. its summary of recent events both precipitating and within the housing market 'crisis' and international commercial relationships between superpowers. Nevertheless, the impression is that the work - fascinating though it is in parts - may just have been a little bit 'scraped together', somewhat hurried.

Given the lightning blitz which has rocked all corners, streets and avenues of the globe's financial institutions, this is perhaps understandable and even forgivable, almost. Recent news bulletins have featured housing crises, bank runs and a possible recession looming forbiddingly. Given that he presumably had only human resources at his disposal, the author may well have reached for a crystal ball as a source of greater predictability than the global market indicators have been able to offer any of us, himself included, of late.

Returning to our initial point, viz. the sheer scope this work claims to encompass, this reviewer particularly appreciated Ferguson's sweep through the civilisations of the past in this Financial History of the World; thus the Inca's spurning of gold and silver as money, the pre-Christian Mesopotamian/Babylonian credit notes in the form of clay tablets and many more indicators of the development of, and various civilisations' attitudes towards, money and finance in general.
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