• The Ascent of Money

  • A Financial History of the World
  • By: Niall Ferguson
  • Narrated by: Simon Prebble
  • Length: 11 hrs and 27 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (3,222 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance.

Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: Call it what you like, it matters. To Christians, love of it is the root of all evil. To generals, it's the sinews of war. To revolutionaries, it's the chains of labor. But in The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson shows that finance is in fact the foundation of human progress. What's more, he reveals financial history as the essential back story behind all history.

Through Ferguson's expert lens familiar historical landmarks appear in a new and sharper financial focus. Suddenly, the civilization of the Renaissance looks very different: a boom in the market for art and architecture made possible when Italian bankers adopted Arabic mathematics. The rise of the Dutch republic is reinterpreted as the triumph of the world's first modern bond market over insolvent Habsburg absolutism. And the origins of the French Revolution are traced back to a stock market bubble caused by a convicted Scot murderer.

©2008 Niall Ferguson (P)2008 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about The Ascent of Money

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A mostly successful and interesting history

This book was written in the earliest days of the current financial crisis, and completed sometime around May, 2008. As a result, it is both quite prescient about the causes of the current unraveling of the world financial system, and a bit out-of-date as so much has changed in the months since the book was published. If you are looking for something to explain the way that the current financial system was developed for the past three hundred years, and how the roots of the current crash go back deep into the history of finance, this book is an excellent and entertaining guide. It will introduce you to everything from the causes of the 1980s S&L scandals to the birth of investment banks to the inflationary pressures caused by the Spanish conquest of the New World, and demonstrate how these concepts are related to the current financial system. You will learn that crashes have always happened, and likely always will, so the book succeeds well as current commentary.

It is somewhat less successful as history of money, however, since the sections of the book, each named after a different type of financial instrument from insurance to bonds, are not really detailed histories of each topic, but rather a series of vignettes that illuminate a concept in the development of a particular financial instrument. The book focuses on the Rothschild family to explain the history of banking, the rise of Pinochet to explain the role of free markets, and so on. These stories are interesting and important, but they make the book feel more disjointed than a typical linear history. Similarly, the level of detail of the book fluctuates between fairly popular descriptions and very detailed statistics.

Overall, if you are either motivated to learn about the financial system, or you have a general interest in financial history, this is a wonderful book. Those who are less interested in the details, or who expect a complete account of the ascent of money, may be less impressed.

91 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A thoroughly elucidating book.

As a student of and a trader in the Futures and Equities Markets, I am surprised to see in this book, an accurate, insightful, and sane exposition of what the markets are, whence they came, how they interact, their beauties and pitfalls, and wither they might go from here. Almost everything else written on this subject is gruel for the masses. This book is a repast of intelligence and clear thinking. My only regret is the public could not have had this book a year earlier. Politicians and the press & media just obfuscate and blather about the economy, but this is an extraordinary book that will educate all. As we go into a very, very bad time economically, the author gives an excellent presentation of the history and meaning of money in its varied forms that will help and guide the reader in making choices and in voicing their concerns and needs to their elected representatives.

A thoroughly elucidating book that is timely and accurate.

76 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating history of finance

A) Great narrator: British, droll, charming.
B) I am a history and casual econ nerd so this book was a perfect fit. Most of the book, which focuses on the rise of banking, currencies, international trading, and all that comes with, was absolutely fascinating. Well-researched, and well-presented. I'm not sure how confusing some of the topics would be to grasp for someone with no background in finance, but it shouldn't be too much of a chanllenge.
C) The part of the book I found less interesting was the last 1/4 which focused more on our current economic situation and how we got there. It's a pretty well-worn topic and Ferguson, while walking through the subject with great descriptions and personal stories, doesn't really shed any new light on the topic.
Overall, a fascinating and educational listen.

29 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Not a history of money

This is not a history of money (currency) but rather attempts to be a complete financial history, and so is really an economic history of Europe and the Western World.

Yes, it is fascinating to know how the advent of credit and financial innovation revolutionized Europe and the New World and is the "back story" of most of Western World History since the 1300s. However, I think the book is mis-titled, and does not explore the non-Euro-centric world in any revealing way.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

not enough cohesion

This book is not so much about money but finance, which is too bad as I thought it would be about the former. The authour should have called it the Ascent of Finance.

Dealing with such a large subject in a book this size is an impossible feat and I don't think the authour pulls it off. It hops around too much without any clear message, and when you wished the authour would zoom in on something to better explain it he jumps to a different topic.

I think A Splendid Exchange by Peter Bernstein is a better history of economics/finance book by a long shot.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

An informative grind

After hearing the author on the Conversations with History podcast I decided to pick up the book. The book is informative but so dry in places that the ah-hah moments were strategically placed oases. It took a pair of multi-week breaks to get through it. I don't regret it because I do think the book is one that the well read person should have under their belt but my goodness, it was hard to get through! I truly hope I am in the minority on this.

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

very interesting, timely

As a non-financial background type person, i thought this was very enlightening, since i never think about concepts like these. While a little boring at times, overall, it opened my mind to a new way of conceptualizing what finance is all about. Also, the lessons of the book are really valuable: the regularity with which events like the current financial situation have recurred is a lesson to anyone who wants to invest or consider saving his/her own personal funds.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

The rise of stocks, bonds, and insurance.

What I like best about this book is the way history is brought to life in the form of stories. These stories include the rise of currency, bond market, stock market, insurance market, real estate market, and China. Much of the earlier chapters occurred prior to the introduction of the US stock market. So if you are interested in early stock market tales then I would recommend listening to Reminisces of a Stock Operator. If you interested in US financial history prior to 1990 but in the 1900’s then try The Book of Investing Wisdom. If you’re interested in economic recoveries then read Anatomy of a Bear.
This book includes the rise of the Rothchild family, Dutch Indian Spice Trade, cotton bonds by the Southern Confederacy, international investing by the British prior to 1914, the gold standard, Amsterdam stock market, insurance benefits for priests, founding of Hong Kong, risk (hurricanes, welfare state, hedge funds) micro loans etc. When I hear of the British health care system I think of the recent heath care reform.
Why presented as financial history it comes across as economics. Quants and company financial statements it is not. It could have been made stronger by tying some of the subject matter more closely to theory. For example, the book “Age of Turbulence” looks to understand why many oil rich countries do not have strong economies. When discussing the mountain of silver in Latin America, there is not much talk of why a resource can hinder economic development.
Because much of the information is historical storytelling, it can come across as interesting when new and slow when old. I considered the stories of Enron, Katrina, Long Term Capital, and the financial crisis of 2008 to be the slowest. And I could have done without the comparison of “human” evolution with “financial” evolution.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best Financial Historico-comtemporary Review

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how money works: the past, the present, and the future. I watched the author on TV one late night and he was impressive. Niall Ferguson did a good job by providing solid examples that leaves the listener/reader spell-bound by the depth of his research and the simplistic way he communicated his knowledge.

Ferguson has spurred my desire to understand in greater detail subjects like: Stock market-(bonds,options, hedge funds etc, Monetary Policy (I have just bought a book by Milton Friedman - inspired by you).

This is a transformative book and I am greatly indebted to Niall.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Another book that could be a blog?

While Niall Ferguson's book does present some interesting history on how a system of money and finance came into existence, it is probably something that could be better read in a condensed format somewhere else.

This book is peppered with self-aggrandizing comments, and "I-called-its", that makes it a bit tough to believe, and would probably work better in an informal personal blog than a formal history. It is true that no history is completely objective, but the author should at least have that intention.

As one final note the book lacks consistency. It jumps from one event to another with no set reason, and seems to accelerate to current times (1990-2008) and stay there for over half the book. Any explanations of financial products, like puts, options, swaps, bonds, etc...are not easy to understand, and might as well be left out.
In closing, save your credit and just google blogs on the financial crises, or finance history, you will find much the same material, and at least you will have visual aids.

8 people found this helpful