Despite the title, "The History of Money" has little to say about money. The book spends most of its time visiting the historical landmarks familiar from school -- Greece, Rome, the middle ages, colonization, the American Civil War. At each stop on this weary tour, Weatherford throws in a token anecdote about the evolution of money.
As I heard about the first coins, the first banks, and so on, I started to suspect that I was getting the author's first impressions on each topic. Nothing is analyzed beyond the barest surface, and the various tidbits never come together as a story or a coherent historical process.
Worst of all is Weatherford's vague animosity towards the move away from the gold standard in the 20th century. This is certainly an important topic for debate, but it gets no in-depth treatment here -- only repeated disparaging of fiat currency as "money based on nothing but promises". I could have heard that sort of insight from a cab driver -- I expect better from a book dedicated to the subject of money.
The last couple of chapters are dedicated to wild speculation on the future of money. The book was written in 1997; in the fifteen years since, reality has not come close to any of Weatherford's guesses. These chapters are best skipped entirely.
The narration was mediocre, mostly due to the editing. Every cut between different takes was distinctly noticeable and distracting. The narration itself was decent.
Nate Silver isn't an expert on statistics. As he explains himself in the book, he's an enthusiast who happened to strike gold when he applied statistics to fields where the competition was very weak. Silver's lack of expertise is very much in evidence throughout the book, in the form of two flaws: shallowness and inaccuracy.
Let's start with the shallowness. Most of the book is taken up by descriptions of various fields where statistical prediction has been applied with differing degrees of success: earthquakes, weather, politics, sports, and so on. The main point of these sections seems to be that pure statistics isn't enough -- you need specific knowledge of the problem in order to make predictions. That's a good point, though fairly obvious; to illustrate it, much time is spent simply describing these various fields. We get a description of how contracts work in baseball, a taxonomy of types of poker player, some information on the planning stages of the 9/11 attacks, and more.
Silver doesn't know very much about any of these subjects, so the result is a shallow and unfocused collection of trivia. Worse still, Silver's knowledge of statistics -- the subject of the book -- isn't very good either, so that topic gets a similarly vague treatment.
Worse still is the inaccuracy that plagues the book. I can't speak for the sections on baseball or terrorism, but I noticed many glaring flaws in the explanations of statistics. One important mistake is the treatment of the concept of bias. Bias is an important technical term in statistics, but Silver talks about it as though he were using the colloquial usage, in which bias is always a bad thing to be eliminated. In fact, bias is often useful and important in solving practical problems in statistics.
Another, particularly annoying mistake was the description of David Hume's ideas about induction. Silver insultingly claims that Hume's idea was that if a claim is not known with 100% certainty, it is a mistake to give it anything other than a 50% chance. This is obviously nonsense and unrelated to Hume's actual thoughts, which should have been given a much more thorough treatment if they were to be mentioned at all.
Despite all this, it's a reasonably entertaining book, and the narrator does an excellent job. But I wouldn't recommend it if your goal is to finish the book knowing more than you did when you picked it up.
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