Review: The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson

Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m not sure if “3” is a good rating, but it’s not a glorious one. Mr Ferguson got some things right here, but other things — I believe — he very much failed with.

Firstly, let’s start with the good. What I particularly appreciated were the descriptions of the various monetary instruments which were generally accompanied by good examples. This made things such as options and put options in context and made them more understandable. The history of how these derivatives came to be developed were also instructive — and possibly explanations of such instruments should rely more on this kind of an explanation.

Secondly, this was a good accounting of how money has developed through the ages. While there could have been more of this description, and perhaps more investigation into why the concept of a company came about, this was a relatively strong aspect of the book up until we reached the 19th century.

Now we come into the bad aspects and these can be summarised as “uncritical praise of the present monetary and financial system”. The gold standard was bad for the author even though the best reason he could offer was that government spending had a limit. I wish there had been more logic and reason to arguments such as these.

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