The Unauthorised Biography

Book - 2014
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Random House, Inc.

From ancient currency to Adam Smith, from the gold standard to shadow banking and the Great Recession: a sweeping historical epic that traces the development and evolution of one of humankind’s greatest inventions.

What is money, and how does it work? In this tour de force of political, cultural and economic history, Felix Martin challenges nothing less than our conventional understanding of money. He describes how the Western idea of money emerged from interactions between Mesopotamia and ancient Greece and was shaped over the centuries by tensions between sovereigns and the emerging middle classes. He explores the extraordinary diversity of the world’s monetary systems, from the Pacific island of Yap, where value was once measured by immovable stones, to the currency of today that exists solely on globally connected computer screens. Martin shows that money has always been a deeply political instrument, and that it is our failure to remember this that led to the crisis in our financial system and so to the Great Recession. He concludes with practical solutions to our current pressing, money-based problems.

Money skips nimbly among such far-ranging topics as John Locke’s disastrous excursion into economic policy, Montesquieu’s faith in finance to discipline the power of kings, the social organization of ancient Sparta and the Soviet Union’s ill-fated attempt to abolish money and banking altogether. Throughout, Martin makes vivid sense of a chaotic and sometimes incoherent system—the everyday currency that we all share—in the clearest and most stimulating terms. This is a magisterial work of history and economics, with profound implications for the world today.

Baker & Taylor
A historical epic by an Oxford-educated economist traces the development and evolution of money from its origins in the ancient world to the gold standard, challenging conventional understandings while exploring the world's complicated monetary systems. 75,000 first printing.

& Taylor

Traces the development and evolution of money from its origins in the ancient world to the gold standard, challenging conventional understandings while exploring the world's complicated monetary systems.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
ISBN: 9780307962430
Branch Call Number: 332.49 M363m
Characteristics: viii, 320 pages : ill. ; 24 cm


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Nov 29, 2016

The writing is very clear and unpolluted by jargon. If there is a problem, its excessive lucidity: very easy to follow whilst reading, but awkward to try to explain to others afterward. And there are neither diagrams nor graphs(!). The key point is that money is not, and really never was, some sort of stuff, rather, its a social technology (I would have called it a group of social techniques, which ought to jive with each other but sometimes don't, but I wasn't editing the book). The book starts from prehistory, and builds fairy quickly to early modern Europe, and then gives a long but clear explanation between classical economics (the stuff of the 'real world' that most are familiar with) and the labyrinthine tight rope (or slack line? or both?) acrobatics of finance, and how the two have been somewhat diverging since the mid-nineteenth century, and then brings it all to a head in the crash derby-waltz of moral hazards that tripped over itself - and fell onto everyone else - in 2008, and finally ends by surveying ideas of how to solve the problems of global economics and public and private institutions and fair risk and reward dispersal in the twenty-first century. (And the text is less than three hundred pages!)


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