Niall Ferguson is becoming a very popular historian, with a string of successful books in the last few years, and his credentials are impressive – so is his prose and analytical style. He is a good writer.
In The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Penguin Press, London, 2008); Niall proves that he might have been a fair economist if he had turned his talents in that direction. As it is, the timing of his book was also impressive – reminding everyone of the verities of finance, just as the Sub-Prime avalanche passed the tipping point and started to thunder down on all of our heads.
Some of Ferguson’s discoveries as he wrote this book: “poverty is not the result of rapacious financiers exploiting the poor. It has more to do with the lack of financial institutions, with the absence of banks not their presence.” He reminds us, as if the current fiscal crisis hasn’t, that the weaknesses of the market represent some very basic human traits – we all can get greedy, we can all over-reach ourselves, and we can all let fear dominate reason. Finally, as we need to be reminded all the time, there is no excuse for financial ignorance… and too many of us (including this writer) are too ignorant for our common good.