The Ascent of Money: Book summary and reviews of The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

The Ascent of Money

A Financial History of the World

By Niall Ferguson

The Ascent of Money

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Book Summary

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 backstory 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.

With the clarity and verve for which he is known, Ferguson elucidates key financial institutions and concepts by showing where they came from. What is money? What do banks do? What’s the difference between a stock and a bond? Why buy insurance or real estate? And what exactly does a hedge fund do?

This is history for the present. Ferguson travels to post-Katrina New Orleans to ask why the free market can’t provide adequate protection against catastrophe. He delves into the origins of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Perhaps most important, The Ascent of Money documents how a new financial revolution is propelling the world’s biggest countries, India and China, from poverty to wealth in the space of a single generation—an economic transformation unprecedented in human history.

Yet the central lesson of the financial history is that sooner or later every bubble bursts—sooner or later the bearish sellers outnumber the bullish buyers, sooner or later greed flips into fear. And that’s why, whether you’re scraping by or rolling in it, there’s never been a better time to understand the ascent of money.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Ferguson's reputation is so high that if he were a stock one would short him. The very title of his book, The Ascent of Money, is a screaming sell signal, like the shoe-shine boys trading stock tips at the door to Grand Central Station in New York in 1929. In fairness, Ferguson recognises that and his pages are hot with proof-stage tyre-marks, as he goes into violent reverse to escape from under collapsing arguments. None the less, his book is very readable indeed and the television series for which it is a sort of trailer, will, I am sure, be even better." - The Guardian (UK).

"This rushed, uneven book, by a British-born Harvard University professor who made his name a decade ago with a history of the Rothschild banking dynasty, will contribute less than expected to that debate. It has strengths, including a tidy account of the run-up in housing markets and of the symbiotic rivalry between America and China. But in the earlier chapters—the history, oddly enough, where you would expect Mr Ferguson’s ambitions for his subject to quicken his judgments—the words rarely come to life, either as a source of ideas or as narrative." - The Economist.

"Ferguson's lighthearted but thoughtful stroll through financial history is a welcome and recommended addition for public libraries and undergraduate collections." - Library Journal.

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Author Information

Niall Ferguson Author Biography

Niall Ferguson MA, D.Phil., is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Born in Glasgow in 1964, he graduated with First Class Honors from Magdalen College, Oxford. His books include The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, The Cash Nexus, Empire and Colossus .

A prolific commentator on contemporary politics and economics, Ferguson writes and reviews regularly for the British and American press. He is a contributing editor for the Financial Times and a regular contributor to Newsweek. In 2004, Time named him as one of the world’s hundred ...

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