Niall Ferguson makes a strong, compelling case for the development of money and banking as a catalyst for the advancement of civilization. Yet while some critics praised his clear, comprehensible writing, punctuated with anecdotes and historical details, others were nonplussed by his explanations and narrative detours. Several critics also bemoaned the book's choppy and uneven structure—an echo of the episodic, six-part television series it was meant to accompany. So it seems the UK critics liked the book less because they had seen the show. Though perhaps best suited to readers with a fundamental understanding of financial terms and theories, Ferguson's latest work provides valuable insight into the inner workings of the global economy, past and present. For interested readers, it demonstrates how our current fiscal meltdown fits into the bigger historical picture and laments humanity's perennial inability to learn from this history.
"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 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."
Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) is a British historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of colonialism. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University as well as William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and also currently the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdalen College, Oxford.
The Times Higher Education noted his "pugnacious undergraduate life and debating style". In 2008, Ferguson published The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World which he also presented as a Channel 4 television series. Both at Harvard College and at LSE, Ferguson teaches an undergraduate class entitled "Western Ascendancy: The Mainsprings of Global Power from 1600 to the Present."
Ferguson is a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is a resident faculty member of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and an advisory fellow of the Barsanti Military History Center at the University of North Texas.
In May 2010 he announced that the Education Secretary in the U.K's newly elected Conservative/Lib Dem government had invited him to write a new history syllabus—"history as a connected narrative"— for schools in England and Wales.
In October 2007, Niall Ferguson left The Sunday Telegraph to join the Financial Times, where he is now a contributing editor.
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