Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review - The Ascent of Money

The Ascent of Money, A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson: An interesting historical perspective of money, its origin to present, how it shaped civilizations, how it financed wars and all its ups and downs. It is amazing how the author has mixed world history with finance and presented the dynamics of moneyless societies and money oriented societies with cash, banks, bonds, stocks and how we continue to evolve.The mix gives us plenty of interesting anecdotes and tidbits of history. I was surprised to note that Fibonacci, famous for the series named after him didn't quite discover the series first - there was a previous mention of the series by Pingala in an older Sanskrit book. As well, Fibonacci made other important contributions that we hardly recognize him for. Then, there is mention of a Persian tablet, societies like Inca that had no concept of money or value for gold, and the South American tribe that lived on monkeys (truly monkey food!) and came into contact with civilization just 5 years back, Italian loan sharks that inspired Shylock character in "The Merchant of Venice", East India company and Dutch finance controller, US civil war and New Orleans immigration & Katrina insurance woes in North America and so on! There is lot of bad news from history, but the author also explains the importance of money and loan/debt markets as necessary instruments without which lot many things may not have been possible for our evolution into a civilized society - the moneyless societies only cared about food and fertile women!

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