Watch the PBS program based on The Ascent of Money.
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.
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Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
He is the author of fourteen books. His first, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927, was short-listed for the History Today Book of the Year award, while the collection of essays he edited, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, was a UK bestseller. In 1998 he published to international critical acclaim The Pity of War: Explaining World War One and The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. The latter won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award. In 2001, after a year as a Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England, he published The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000.
In 2003 Ferguson wrote and presented a six-part history of the British Empire for Channel 4, the UK broadcaster. The accompanying book, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, was a bestseller in both Britain and the United States. The sequel, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, was published in 2004 by Penguin, and prompted Time magazine to name him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Two years later he published The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, a television adaptation of which was screened by PBS in 2007. The international bestseller, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, followed in 2008; it too was a PBS series, winning the International Emmy award for Best Documentary, as well as the Handelszeitung Economics Book Prize. In 2011 he published Civilization: The West and the Rest, also a Channel 4/PBS documentary series. A year later came the three-part television series “China: Triumph and Turmoil.” The book based on his 2012 BBC Reith lectures, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, was a New York Times bestseller within a week of its publication.
An accomplished biographer, Ferguson published High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg in 2010 and is currently writing a life of Henry Kissinger, the first volume of which has just been published—to critical acclaim—as Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist. In 2011 his film company Chimerica Media released its first feature-length documentary, “Kissinger”, which won the New York Film Festival’s prize for Best Documentary.
Ferguson was the Philippe Roman Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics in 2010-11. He is a member of the board of trustees of the American Academy in Berlin and the New York Historical Society. His many prizes and awards include the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010), the Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2012) and the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism (2013).
In addition to writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) and the Boston Globe, he is the founder and managing director of Greenmantle LLC, a Cambridge-based advisory firm. He also serves on the board of Affiliated Managers Group.
Niall Ferguson is married to the author and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He has four children.