Synopses & Reviews
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.
“[Ferguson] uses his powerful narrative talents in these pages to give the reader a highly tactile sense of history. … The author [has a] knack for making long-ago events as vivid and visceral as the evening news, for weaving anecdotes and small telling details together with a wide-angled retrospective vision” – New York Times
“A dazzling history of Western ideas” –The Economist
“Mr. Ferguson tells his story with characteristic verve and an eye for the felicitous phrase.” – Wall Street Journal
“[W]ritten with vitality and verve… a tour de force.” –Boston Globe
“This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio…Ferguson ends by suggesting the biggest threat is not China but ourselves – our cowardice, drawn from ignorance, even stupidity, about our past. He is right. But as he shows himself, that can be fixed.” –The Financial Times
“[Fergusons] intellectual virtuosity is refreshing. The Great Degeneration
won't be popular in the Obama White House or other centers of power. Jeremiah wasn't popular with the elders of Judea either. They tossed him in jail for his sedition. They had reason later to be sorry.” —The Wall Street Journal
"An informative and enjoyable read." —Financial Times
“[Fergusons] intellectual virtuosity is refreshing. The Great Degeneration won't be popular in the Obama White House or other centers of power. Jeremiah wasn't popular with the elders of Judea either. They tossed him in jail for his sedition. They had reason later to be sorry.”—The Wall Street Journal
"Brilliantly written, full of wit and virtuosity, stuffed with memorable lines and gorgeous bits of information. A great read."—The Times (London) (on Civilization)
"A dazzling history of Western ideas ... epic.."—The Economist
"This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson... twists his knife with great literary brio."—Andrew Marr (on Civilization)
"A masterpiece ... fascinating facts burst like fireworks on every page."—Sunday Times
"Brings history alive for the reader with a dazzling knowledge ... peerless."—Independent on Sunday
From renowned historian Niall Ferguson, a searching and provocative examination of the widespread institutional rot that threatens our collective future
What causes rich countries to lose their way? Symptoms of decline are all around us today: slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior. But what exactly has gone wrong? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues in The Great Degeneration, is that our institutions—the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail—are degenerating.
Representative government, the free market, the rule of law, and civil society—these are the four pillars of West European and North American societies. It was these institutions, rather than any geographical or climatic advantages, that set the West on the path to global dominance beginning around 1500. In our time, however, these institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways. Our democracies have broken the contract between the generations by heaping IOUs on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are hindered by overcomplex regulations that debilitate the political and economic processes they were created to support; the rule of law has become the rule of lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society, where we lazily expect all of our problems to be solved by the state.
It is institutional degeneration, in other words, that lies behind economic stagnation and the geopolitical decline that comes with it. With characteristic verve and historical insight, Ferguson analyzes not only the causes of this stagnation but also its profound consequences.
The Great Degeneration is an incisive indictment of an era of negligence and complacency. While the Arab world struggles to adopt democracy and China struggles to move from economic liberalization to the rule of law, our society is squandering the institutional inheritance of centuries. To arrest the breakdown of our civilization, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform.
Western civilization’s rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries. All over the world, more and more people study at Western-style universities, work for Western-style companies, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and play Western sports. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed like miserable backwaters, ravaged by incessant war and pestilence. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed?
In Civilization: The West and the Rest, acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. These were the ‘killer applications’ that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest; opening global trade routes, exploiting new scientific knowledge, evolving representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the industrial revolution, and hugely increasing human productivity. Civilization shows exactly how a dozen Western empires came to control three-fifths of mankind and four-fifths of the world economy.
Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered because the Rest have finally downloaded the six killer apps the West once monopolized – while the West has literally lost faith in itself.
Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside the clashes of civilizations, Civilization recasts world history with verve and wit. Boldly argued but also teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.
Bestselling author Niall Ferguson reveals for the first time the true extent of Siegmund Warburg's influence-and the lessons we can learn in a time of crisis from the last of the high financiers.
"Success from the financial and from the prestige point of view . . . is not enough; what matters even more is . . . adherence to high moral and aesthetic standards."
-Siegmund Warburg, 1959
In this pathbreaking new biography, based on more than ten thousand hitherto unavailable letters and diary entries, bestselling author Niall Ferguson returns to his roots as a financial historian to tell the story of Siegmund Warburg, an extraordinary man whose austere philosophy of finance offers much insight today.
A refugee from Hitler's Germany, Warburg rose to become the dominant figure in postwar City of London and one of the architects of European financial integration. Seared by the nearcollapse and then "Aryanization" of his family's long-established bank in the 1930s and then frustrated by the stagnation of its Wall Street sister, Kuhn Loeb, in the 1950s, Warburg resolved that his own firm of S. G. Warburg (founded in 1946) would be different.
An obsessive perfectionist with an aversion to excessive risk, Warburg came to embody the ideals of the haute banquet-high finance- always eschewing the fast buck in favor of gilt-edged advice. He was not only the master of the modern merger and founder of the eurobond; he was also a key behind-the-scenes adviser to governments in London, Tokyo, and Jerusalem-to his critics, a "financial Rasputin." Like a character from a Thomas Mann novel, Warburg was a complex and ambivalent man, as much a psychologist, politician, and actor-manager as he was a banker. In High Financier Niall Ferguson shares the first book-length examination of a man whose life and work suggest an alternative to the troubled business principles that helped shape our current financial landscape.
Is America an empire? Certainly not, according to our government. Despite the conquest of two sovereign states in as many years, despite the presence of more than 750 military installations in two thirds of the world’s countries and despite his stated intention "to extend the benefits of freedom...to every corner of the world," George W. Bush maintains that "America has never been an empire." "We don’t seek empires," insists Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "We’re not imperialistic."
Nonsense, says Niall Ferguson. In Colossus he argues that in both military and economic terms America is nothing less than the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government. In theory it’s a good project, says Ferguson. Yet Americans shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are indispensable if rogue regimes and failed states really are to be changed for the better. Ours, he argues, is an empire with an attention deficit disorder, imposing ever more unrealistic timescales on its overseas interventions. Worse, it’s an empire in denial—a hyperpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities. And the negative consequences will be felt at home as well as abroad. In an alarmingly persuasive final chapter Ferguson warns that this chronic myopia also applies to our domestic responsibilities. When overstretch comes, he warns, it will come from within—and it will reveal that more than just the feet of the American colossus is made of clay.
A searching and provocative examination of the widespread institutional rot that threatens our collective future
What causes rich countries to lose their way? Symptoms of decline are all around us today: slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior. But what exactly has gone wrong? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues in The Great Degeneration, is that our institutionsthe intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or failare degenerating. With characteristic verve and historical insight, Ferguson analyzes the causes of this stagnation and its profound consequences for the future of the West. The Great Degeneration is an incisive indictment of an era of negligence and complacencyand to arrest the breakdown of our civilization, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform.
About the Author
NIALL FERGUSON is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money,
and High Financier
. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.
Table of Contents
1. The Limits of the American Empire
2. The Imperialism of Anti-Imperialism
3. The Civilization of Clashes
4. Splendid Multilateralism
5. The Case for Liberal Empire
6. Going Home or Organizing Hypocrisy
7. "Impire": Europe Between Brussels and Byzantium
8. The Closing Door
Conclusion: Looking Homeward