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
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
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.
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.
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.
This book is timely and packed with information. The author puts our current "situation" in a historical context that proves very illuminating. I will be re-listening to the whole thing.
The best thing you can make is joy.
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.
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.
I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.
This is an accessible yet detailed history of finance. The historical content was engaging and was the sort of thing that you've probably never heard about, even if you are a history buff (as I am). Even with extremely limited background knowledge, I had no trouble following along and yet it was in-depth enough to hold my attention. Despite the subject matter, it doesn't get wrapped up in numbers so that it gets tedious to hear in audio format, unlike many other books about financial matters.
The narration was truly excellent. Easy to understand and I can't remember even a single pronunciation error, which I cannot say about almost any other audiobook I've listened to.
Overall, I would highly recommend it - the historical aspect is interesting regardless of the level of interest a person may have in financial systems and the details about stocks, bonds, currency, etc. are there for those who are already knowledgeable about the subject.
A small note is that the writing on the book was completed in May 2008, so the parts about the late 2007/early 2008 subprime mortgage problems are sort of strange and feel incomplete, seeing as he didn't know that the crisis would escalate just a few months later. He doesn't make any predictions, but it is still a bit strange to read an assessment of the situation just before the worst of it really hit. If you know more about that crisis than I do (I am admittedly not very knowledgeable about it), you may find those discussions particularly interesting.
Husband, Dad, Principal, Adjunct prof, RC Deacon, radio co-host, story teller, NYer, walker, & occasional sipper of fine whisk(e)y,
I was a liberal art major in College. Money, to me, just sort of "was." Mr. Ferguson takes the listener through a delightful history of money and economy and allows one to see how we got where we are.
This is an historical account of money/econonmics in all of its shapes and forms. The book is arranged in chapters that discuss:
1. The rise of money in society, credit and debt and how hard currency was replaced with paper.
2. The rise of the bond market and the Rothschild family
3. The stock market and the bubbles that it has produced (e.g., Enron)
4. The start of insurance and the management of risk
5. Housing an mortgages
6. The effects of globalization (e.g., China's economic development)
I found this book enjoyable to listen too, but there were times when I wish it had gone into more depth with the explanation of certain economic topics. Still the scope was large enough to give a layman like myself a good survey of topics. I especially liked chapters 1, 3, and 4 but I felt that some of the parts in the (chap5) housing discussion were a little preachy about social inequalities. Also I found the discussion on globalization a little dated - this book was written in 2008.
The afterward of this book was also interesting but raced through the topic of behavior economics (the irrationality of economics due to human nature) way too fast for me.
I would recommend this book to those of you that have like popular economic books (e.g., freakonomics, predictably irrational) AND also like history. You must like listening to history books to enjoy this.
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.
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