• Money for Nothing

  • The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich
  • By: Thomas Levenson
  • Narrated by: Dan Bittner
  • Length: 12 hrs and 12 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (84 ratings)

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Money for Nothing  By  cover art

Money for Nothing

By: Thomas Levenson
Narrated by: Dan Bittner
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Publisher's Summary

The sweeping story of the world’s first financial crisis: “an astounding episode from the early days of financial markets that to this day continues to intrigue and perplex historians ... narrative history at its best, lively and fresh with new insights” (Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance)

A Financial Times Economics Book of the Year ● Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 

In the heart of the Scientific Revolution, when new theories promised to explain the affairs of the universe, Britain was broke, facing a mountain of debt accumulated in war after war it could not afford. But that same Scientific Revolution - the kind of thinking that helped Isaac Newton solve the mysteries of the cosmos - would soon lead clever, if not always scrupulous, men to try to figure a way out of Britain’s financial troubles. 

Enter the upstart leaders of the South Sea Company. In 1719, they laid out a grand plan to swap citizens’ shares of the nation’s debt for company stock, removing the burden from the state and making South Sea’s directors a fortune in the process. Everybody would win. The king’s ministers took the bait - and everybody did win. Far too much, far too fast. The following crash came suddenly in a rush of scandal, jail, suicide, and ruin. But thanks to Britain’s leader, Robert Walpole, the kingdom found its way through to emerge with the first truly modern, reliable, and stable financial exchange.

Thomas Levenson’s Money for Nothing tells the unbelievable story of the South Sea Bubble with all the exuberance, folly, and the catastrophe of an event whose impact can still be felt today.

©2020 Thomas Levenson (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Superb, fascinating, and totally timely, Money for Nothing is a gripping history of the South Sea Bubble by a scholar who makes complicated and subtle matters not just accessible but fun - the story of a world crisis with a flashy cast of grifters, scientists, politicians, and charlatans that Levenson makes utterly relevant to the 2008 financial crisis and 2020 pandemic.... Essential reading." (Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem and The Romanovs)

“Levenson is a brilliant synthesizer with a grand view of history. Here is the birth of modern finance amid catastrophe and fraud - a gripping story of scientists and swindlers, all too pertinent to our modern world.” (James Gleick, author of Time Travel: A History)

“The story of government debt finance, which sounds boring but definitely isn’t ... an enthralling account of an economic revolution that emerged from a scandal.” (Kirkus Reviews starred review)   

What listeners say about Money for Nothing

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Financial innovation's first song of the siren.

Anyone interested in economics, finance or economic history will love this book. A well-researched documentation of the first time financial innovation brought a western nation to its knees. I suppose the lessons of history are clear and the errors are doomed to be repeated by those not educating themselves about them.

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The worlds first financial crash in entertaining detail

This is a finely detailed account of the South Sea bubble of 1720, rich in background information, vivid character sketches and lively period atmosphere. It’s well researched and very well read, so if you’re looking to understand why markets crash it’s a great place to start.

Given the amount of historical detail it will also please anyone interested in 18th century history, and is very accessible to anyone just looking for a good read!

Highly recommend!

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Struggled to finish.

Liked the objective of the book but felt the middle chapters were much to long with to many market details. More ties throught the book to the 2010 collapse would have interested me more.

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Interesting finance-science-history crossover

I think this book succeeds in what the author set out to do. Isaac Newton is a fine pick as a principal character, and he was sio brilliant and his life so eventful it would, I would think, make storytelling relatvely easy. This is good popular history, rich in well-chosen anecdotes moving the story along. I will always buy popular financial history straightaway, if it has any seemingly distinctive angle at all. I still await a deeply technical audiobook about the Bank of England (not to mention the contemporaries in Amsterdam and Paris), but I realize the market is probably microscopic.

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Should be Required reading in business schools

Very well told. Important to know. UnderstAnding the history of certain key financial ideas in the financial markets and how they came ab.out is as important as being able buy a stock or make an investment. Very well done

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Great book for looking at repeating history

I honestly thought this was something else, and what a great mistake it was. Bittner brings you into an age that was much less sophisticated and explains things in a detail that kept my interest and wanting more.

If you have any interest in finance, or even wonder how irrational bubbles happen, this is a must-listen.