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The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World | [Niall Ferguson]

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

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. Niall Ferguson shows that finance is in fact the foundation of human progress.
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Audible Editor Reviews

The Ascent of Money is a fast-paced, superbly written, and richly informative excursion through tableaus, themes, scenes, and events that mark the financial history of the world. Included are substantial details on the fiscal meltdown in progress in May 2008, before the book went to press, adding a 21st century variation on the theme of financial collapses detailed in The Ascent of Money. Niall Ferguson has written an exciting panorama of finance that is also very much a book for our times. This is history as global financial drama, of advancing financial development, and the always recurring back stories of financial decline and debacle. It is a book orchestrated as much as written. The Ascent of Money demands a narrator with the range of talents necessary for bringing to voice the rich orchestration of Ferguson's prose. Enter, stage right, Simon Prebble.

With his rich, versatile, and expressive British tenor voice (and his 300+ unabridged narrations in a variety of genres), Prebble is Ascent's perfect narrator. From the first sentence of the Introduction — "Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: call it what you like, money matters." — to the last sentence of the Afterword — "It is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty." — Prebble delivers the authentic voice of this financial history. Applying here an altered nuance of phrasing, there the shortest of a shift of timing and slant of intonation, and everywhere present the voice's active tonal center, Prebble drives Ferguson's historical narrative forward. In a print book the reading eye catches, and the mind registers - at places only subliminally - meanings that are too subtle to be directly communicated. By his command and application of stored registries of articulation, expression, and ranges of emotion, Prebble clearly shows that he belongs with the best of narrators who can tap into and reflect and suggest the visual acuity that registers in the mind when reading and narrating. —David Chasey

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

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  •  
    Thomas Chapel Hill, NC, United States 03-13-09
    Thomas Chapel Hill, NC, United States 03-13-09 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ajit westford, MA, USA 08-15-09
    Ajit westford, MA, USA 08-15-09
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    "Very nice"

    A very interesting and engrossing history of finance. Narration is also very good. I would recommend it for individuals with non-finance background wanting to learn a little about the world of finance and how it got to be the way it is.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Money Ascendant"

    We are all self-appointed experts when it comes to money (or at least real estate), but none of us really knows much history. For if we knew the history of booms and busts, bonds and equities, risk and insurance then we may all be a little less likely to jump into the latest bubble, and a little more likely to question our own "expertise". I admire Ferguson for taking on a big topic, and for his willingness to provide a grand sweep of history that reflects and helps us understand our current recession.

    The book was apparently written to accompany a documentary series, and it certainly reads that way. This is good and bad...and the narrative moves along quickly and big lessons are drawn - while at times leaving the reader wanting more analysis. One question that the author poses keeps coming back to me - have we been living through a "super bubble" from the 1950s to today, which will see a slow deflation in our lifetimes as property values stagnate and China is no longer willing to fund our consumption through their savings?

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donald Asheville, NC, United States 01-11-11
    Donald Asheville, NC, United States 01-11-11 Member Since 2009
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    "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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darkcoffee Allen, TX, United States 12-26-10
    Darkcoffee Allen, TX, United States 12-26-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Part one tour de force; part two slower going"

    The first chapters (up through Ferguson's elucidating chapter on how insurance works) is a wonderfully clear account of how financial systems evolved and how they work. Unfortunate, Ferguson gets on a few obvious personal hobby-horses in the last half of the book and if you don't agree with his politics (he makes a point of calling American Republicans idiots, which immediately alienates half his audience to no purpose, especially on a subject such as this. One supposes he is attempting to keep his academic Facebook friends list from going down). In any case, there are some excellent insights and generally good writing throughout and the book is definitely a worthwhile listen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grahame Florida, USA 03-24-13
    Grahame Florida, USA 03-24-13 Member Since 2011

    A lover of good music, good stories and intelligent non-fiction.

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    "Essential to an understanding of our world"

    If you want to understand our current economic system, the world financial crisis of 2008 and what will cause the next economic crisis, then you need to understand the roots of the system which perpetuates these booms and busts. It just might help you save your own shirt when others are losing theirs.

    After listening to this book I have a far better understanding of the mundane side of money: loans, credit, stocks, bonds, insurance, etc. and I finally understand the many, seemingly crazy, financial institutions and instruments which are making and losing billions today. Believe it or not, they started out as good ideas that solved real problems, but as the years went on and clever and greedy men saw how to manipulate them, they became "financial weapons of mass destruction," as Warren Buffet so accurately named them.

    I don't think the book pushes any particular political agenda. It seems more interested in the facts of the ascent of money than in any ideology. I liked that because it meant that I could evaluate the data without having to strip out a bias to left or right.

    The narration was excellent and the style of the book is entertaining. It never gets dry or academic.

    I highly recommend it.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B Franklin Los Angeles, CA United States 04-10-14
    B Franklin Los Angeles, CA United States 04-10-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Scatter brained and disorganized"
    Any additional comments?

    Thought this book jumped around too much. From the description, I thought it was going to be more of a history of money going in chronological order, but instead, it jumps from financial idea to financial idea.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Marietta, GA, United States 01-27-12
    Susan Marietta, GA, United States 01-27-12 Member Since 2010

    I've become an avid "reader" since I discovered audiobooks a few years ago. Also a cat lover - at left is Prince Harold

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not my cup of tea"

    A little boring for those of us not particularly well-versed in economics. Lots of good information if only you can force yourself to listen. I kept skipping ahead hoping I'd find something a bit more interesting....then I got to the end (thankfully.) The narrator is good - British accent and all, but he does drone on pretty much in a monotone.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    modeknit St. Paul, MN 04-06-11
    modeknit St. Paul, MN 04-06-11 Member Since 2004

    The best thing you can make is joy.

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    "Conservative Flavor"

    There's a strong, yet subtle conservative tinge to this entire book, which I found disconcerting and at times inflammatory. Ferguson hates Unions, that's clear, and in a leitmotif blames them over and over for various financial down turns.

    I should have done my homework before buying this book. It's not that I don't like to hear several sides of an issue - I do - but I found his need to politicize many aspects of finance troubling. Not the most enjoyable read I've listened to.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lt. William Calley Los Angeles, CA 02-14-10
    Lt. William Calley Los Angeles, CA 02-14-10 Member Since 2005
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    "excellent"

    One of the most interesting books I have read to date. This work is an entertaining overview of the evolution of financial systems and how the history of innovations in finance really parallels and in many cases drives the political history of the world civilizations.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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