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The Ascent of Money

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Country  United States
Publication date  13 November 2008
ISBN  978-1-59420-192-9
Originally published  13 November 2008
Page count  432
Genre  Economic history
3.9/5 Goodreads

Language  English
Pages  432
OCLC  191929255
Author  Niall Ferguson
Publisher  Penguin Books
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Subjects  History of money, Credit, Bank
Similar  Niall Ferguson books, Money books, Non-fiction books

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World is Harvard professor Niall Ferguson's tenth book, published in 2008, and an adapted television documentary for Channel 4 (UK) and PBS (US), which in 2009 won an International Emmy Award. It examines the long history of money, credit, and banking.


Conversations with history the ascent of money


The book deals with the rise of money as a trade form, and tracks its progression, development, and effects on society into the 21st Century.


The book was adapted into a six(6)-part television documentary with the new full title Ascent of Money: Boom and Bust for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. It also aired on TVB Pearl in Hong Kong and ABC1 in Australia. In the United States, an edited two-hour version was aired in January 2009 by PBS.

A newer, reorganized four-hour version with the original full title The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World was aired in July 2009 by PBS. Both versions can still be viewed online at the link below.

Ep. 1: Dreams of avarice

From Shylock's pound of flesh to the loan sharks of Glasgow, from the "promises to pay" on Babylonian clay tablets to the Medici banking system. Professor Ferguson explains the origins of credit and debt and why credit networks are indispensable to any civilization.

Ep. 2: Human bondage

How did finance become the realm of the masters of the universe? Through the rise of the bond market in Renaissance Italy. With the advent of bonds, war finance was transformed and spread to north-west Europe and across the Atlantic. It was the bond market that made the Rothschilds the richest and most powerful family of the 19th century.

Ep. 3: Blowing bubbles

Why do stock markets produce bubbles and busts? Professor Ferguson goes back to the origins of the joint stock company in Amsterdam and Paris. He draws telling parallels between the current stock market crash and the 18th century Mississippi Bubble of Scottish financier John Law and the 2001 Enron bankruptcy. He shows why humans have a herd instinct when it comes to investment, and why no one can accurately predict when the bulls might stampede.

Ep. 4: Risky business

Life is a risky business – which is why people take out insurance. But faced with an unexpected disaster, the state has to step in. Professor Ferguson travels to post-Katrina New Orleans to ask why the free market can't provide some of the adequate protection against catastrophe. His quest for an answer takes him to the origins of modern insurance in the early 19th century and to the birth of the welfare state in post-war Japan.

Ep. 5: Safe as houses

It sounded so simple: give state-owned assets to the people. After all, what better foundation for a property-owning democracy than a campaign of privatisation encompassing housing? An economic theory says that markets can't function without mortgages, because it's only by borrowing against their assets that entrepreneurs can get their businesses off the ground. But what if mortgages are bundled together and sold off to the highest bidder?

Ep. 6: Chimerica

Niall Ferguson investigates the globalisation of the Western economy and the uncertain balance between the important component countries of China and the US. In examining the last time globalisation took hold – before World War One, he finds a notable reversal, namely that today money is pouring into the English-speaking economies from the developing world, rather than out.

Episodes - Four-Hour Version

  • Episode 1: From Bullion to Bubbles
  • Episode 2: Bonds of War
  • Episode 3: Risky Business
  • Episode 4: Planet Finance
  • Critical Acclaim

    The New York Times' Michael Hirsh glowingly mentions that "Ferguson takes us on an often enlightening and enjoyable spelunking tour through the underside of great events, a lesson in how the most successful great powers have always been underpinned by smart money". The Guardian's book review also lavishes praise on Ferguson's efforts by mentioning that he mirrors Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man by positioning financial markets as 'the mirror of mankind', magnifying back to us our values, weaknesses and psychoses". The Economist compliments the timing of the book's release at the height of the financial crisis by saying that "The world needs a book that puts today's crisis into context. It is too late now to warn investors about expensive houses and financiers about cheap credit. But perhaps the past can help make sense of the wreckage of banks, brokers and hedge funds that litters the markets. Looking back may help suggest what to do next. And when the crisis is over and it is time for the great reckoning, the lessons of history should inform the arguments about what must change".


  • By Robert Skidelsky from The New York Review of Books
  • By Tristram Hunt from The Guardian
  • By Michael Hirsh from The New York Times
  • References

    The Ascent of Money Wikipedia