Dr. Niall Ferguson, an historian at Harvard University, believes that you cannot understand our current financial crisis unless you have a solid grounding in financial history. In The Ascent of Money he tries to provide just such a grounding. He starts by tracing the development of money itself. But, it is only after money is developed that things really get interesting. Ferguson goes on to cover what he believes are the cornerstones of modern finance: credit, bonds, stocks, and real estate. He traces the development of each, regaling the reader with fascinating historical anecdotes. My favorite is how John Law ruined the finances of France by inflating the first stock market bubble. The penultimate chapter of the book covers modern financial history, with a look at such things economic empires and hedge funds. Finally, in the Afterword, Dr. Ferguson points out the evolutionary character of financial markets, as well as the irrational behavior of its participants.
I found this book to be quite entertaining. It is full of interesting historical anecdotes. But, there is much scholarship to learn from as well. However, I am not entirely in agreement with Dr. Ferguson that understanding financial history will help you understand our current economic straits. Having finished his book, I am still a little baffled about how exactly we have reached our current point of crisis.