From primitive man's cowrie shells to the electronic cash card, from the markets of Timbuktu to the New York Stock Exchange, The History of Money explores how money and the myriad forms of exchange have affected humanity, and how they will continue to shape all aspects of our lives--economic, political, and personal.
©1998 Jack Weatherford (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
Yes, as a reviewer notes, this work is not exhaustive. There are gaps, in the history and in geographic areas. I might have titled it "a" history of money, rather than "the" history. And some points of view might not be exhaustively represented, particularly some modern political slants. But this book is a treat, end to end. I would think a person lopsided and unimaginative for fixating on these supposed imperfections and missing the bright, illuminating treasures scattered all over this work, both in character-and-detail-rich stories, and in imaginative presentation of concepts. The author is a born storyteller and explainer. I feel myself enlightened and empowered by having heard this.
I loved this audiobook. It has a wealth of history not just about money, but also of the world. Any book that elucidates your understanding of history is a great asset in my opinion. It was interesting to learn about the Roman empire, the knights templar, etc. all in relation to money. Narration was great also.
I made the mistake of buying this book because I liked Weatherford's Genghis Khan so much. Mr. Weatherford is an excellent historian/historic storyteller, and that is where this book succeeds: the telling of the history of money. So the book delivers? Not entirely.
The book is written in 1998, the dawn of the internet hype. And that is where the problems are. When the writer explains where money is now and where it is going to, it stays too much in the hyperbole of the day. 24 hours non stop everywhere, blink of an eye billions of dollars across the globe hype of the end of the 90's. Although here and there he strikes a hit (currencies less and less in the grip of national governments), for the current reader there is just too much that has happened in the last 15 years for this part to be interesting.
My recommendation would be to read the book if you are interested in a historic story about the development and meaning of money for society (big, always). And just avoid the stuff about the most 'recent' developments, which is about the last 2 hours.
Most in the US have not studied the very concept of "money" nor its known history. This book jumps around chronologically and does so in order to get across that money is nothing more than what we collectively agree it to be. I found it both informative and entertaining. Some may not know the role that gold and/or silver has had in shaping what we currently call "money" across the globe, so it may seem like this is a pro-gold standard diatribe when it's actually covering what used to be "money" and the reasons for the longevity of metals as currency. Included are various history lessons, including how money and debt played a role in the conversion of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire ca. 27 BC.
I highly recommend it.
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.
I enjoy books about history, politics, physics, and anthropology. My favorite fiction author is Kurt Vonnegut.
Be warned that this is an author with a very biased view on how economies should work, and this book is written from the perspective that pure unregulated free markets are the best system of economics and that state intervention always makes things worse. My problem isn't that he has this perspective, but the fact that he doesn't make it clear that it is merely his perspective and gives the impression that there isn't robust debate that exists on the subject. It makes it hard to trust him as a historian. It really narrows the perspective on history rather than expanding it, which is what a short introductory economic history book should do.
The beginning of this book offers some very interesting history, such as how commodity currency worked in Aztec economies and how certain types of material used as currency had different effects on social structure and cultural practices. I trust the author's reporting on politically benign matters, such as the gathering of whale teeth for bartering, but it seems as the closer the narrative gets to our modern economy, the more this anti-state free market bias shows itself. It subtly starts to show itself when he gets into the reasons for why the Roman Empire collapsed, which he claimed was completely caused by taxation and the government trying to take care of people. By the time he gets to his opinion on the Great Depression I had to stop listening because it seemed to completely devolved into a rant about how governments supposedly are bumbling beurocracies that are either ineffective at addressing economic problems or make them worse by meddling in the free market.
He's perfectly entitled to his opinion, but the problem is he states it as if it were undisputed fact. He uses such phrases as, "Everyone in America was in agreement that the government made things worse by tampering with the money supply during the Great Depression," as if all debate were closed on the subject. If what he says is true, then this was the first and only case of everyone in the country agreeing on something. The fact that there's a robust debate around the role of the government in the economy is completely lost on the reader when he presents history this way, and gives a very narrow-minded interpretation of complex historical events.
Not being a historian myself, I was only able to recognize this bias when he approached subjects of contemporary history I'm familiar with, and it made me worry that I might have been presented with an equally narrow-minded view of what events caused economic problems in earlier societies like the Roman Empire and Lydia.
I'm not suggesting that you should choose a book written from a socialist perspective, but a book claiming the title of "The History of Money" should be much more measured in its presentation of facts if it is to be taken as a good introduction to economic anthropology.
No. I felt like I was reading entertainment and/or polemic, not history. The first chapter was perplexing; then there was about half a book that was good. But suddenty around the time of Breton Woods, the book went off the rails into longwinded diatribes against fiat money. At that point I started to wonder why I was listening. The examples became longer and more repetitive, and the facts became thinner and thinner.
The author continuously confuses the artifact of money with the transactions that are enabled from money, and asserts that modern money will vanish, although ancient barter systems will survive the evolution to new money. He ignores the role of China (in fact he seems to treat the "history of money" as distinct from the history of economics). He has a long discussion of the rise of loyalty money (airline miles, loyalty points, etc.), but asserts that private senioriage will begin in the 21st century - ignoring the fact that loyalty money is private senioriage. He praises Breton Woods management of exchange rates as the only rational course, but condemns federal reserve management of monetary value as deceptive and nearly criminal.
Pity is that these doubts are causing me to question the parts of the book that sounded good. How much trust can I place in his discussion of Roman or Renaissance economics once he has revealed that he's willing to substitute politics for history?
IF Mr. Bevine was accurately conveying Mr. Weatherford's tone, then my only complaint is that he spoke too slowly. If however the contempt came from Mr. Bevine, rather than from Mr. Weatherford's text, then he deserves more criticism.
Yes - there were some very useful examples between Lydia and Breton Woods. So long as the book sticks to history and avoids politics, it is decent.
I am a glass artist, working from my studio at home. Audio books keep my mind stimulated while my hands are busy.
light on dates and laborious introductions to chapters, the author leaves you feeling that you could do a little of your own research when he moves too briskly through a period.
Very entertaining overall.
Surprised it isn't a top seller.
Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.
If you're worried that this book is a dry, academic look at the history of finance and how it influenced humanity, you'd be mostly right. It isn't dry, but it is all the rest.
It is a detailed look at how money was developed to suit human needs and civilizations. It's a fresh way of looking at something most of us take for granted as being part of the human culture. Good food for thought, whether or not you are interested in modern finance.
I gave it 4 stars, but I have a distinct feeling this topic could have been made much more interesting. Somewhere between the Knights Templar's banking precedent and the airline miles industry, it all became less gripping. It also didn't help that some of the chapters ended with such an extensive summing-up that I kept thinking the book was ending. But no. So I don't know, it was maybe the dry writing style, maybe uneven interest, who knows. Still, this was interesting and comprehensive enough.
"Money over the history of humanity"
This is an excellent listen as it describes all versions of money over the history of humanity. It describes many good events in history that have resulted in the effects of money. For example, when money was in silver and gold coins the spanish found huge reserves in south america, then it became the richest country because money was valued in the coins. It goes from barter to the current system and what made a great impression upon me is just how short a time it has been since money was held in computer records and the credit crunch occurred very quickly (in historical timeline). Well worth the money and worth listening to a few times, good stories to tell your friends at dinner parties.
"A compelling book!"
I really enjoyed this book. If you are interested in History, Philosophy and are generally curious about our world, then this book is a must! It's a comprehensive, accessible account of how money shaped the society we live in. Not a dull moment!
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