The Ascent of Money

Welcome to the world of money! Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, luca, moolah…Call it what you like. Money can break us or it can make us.


With these words begins a fascinating documentary series based on the book by British historian, writer, Ph.D. and then-Harvard professor Neil Fergusson.

“The Ascent of Money” is a monumental work about the origin of money, what impact it has on the economy and culture, why it changes its form, but never changes its essence.

Ferguson traced the development of money from seashells to paper banknotes, revealing finance as the backbone of history.  (The book was first published in 2008, even before the advent of cryptocurrencies, so digital money did not take pride of place on the evolutionary ladder).

But it is not the historical retrospective that is the main theme of the book and the film. The most interesting thing is the author’s observations of how the human mentality changed after the emergence of commodity-money relations and how money changed the course of world history.

Fergusson’s main idea is that a financial secret is hidden behind every historical event. We can already recognize some of them, but most of them will never become available to society.

The series, unlike the fundamental study of the book version, is accompanied by an easy to perceive language and visuals. And if you do not feel the strength to read 320 pages of scientific research, with a lot of names, dates and events, then we advise you to watch / listen to a story about money as an unobtrusive background for your daily routines.

What is that you can learn from watching this documentary? 

  1. What communism and the Inca empire have in common.
  1. What the first financial pyramids looked like under the Duke of Orleans.
  1. Who was the creator of the first exchange and the first financial bubble.
  1. How and why the Italian bankers promoted the Renaissance.
  1. How Holland defeated the Habsburg dynasty with the help of the stock exchange.
  1. What risk management looked like 400 years ago.
  1. Why the once blooming Detroit is dying.
  1. What is the weakness of the gold standard.
  1. Why the creation of a “welfare state” in Japan failed.
  1. Why New Orleans was destroyed not by Katrina, but by the risk insurance system.

“Ascent of money”, in our humble opinion, can be equated to a full course of political economy at a university but without much tension, furious formulas and abstruse terms.

Watch the full documentary here

Listen to the audiobook here

Buy the book that the documentary is based on here

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