Friday, June 26, 2009

The Ascent of Money

Years ago, I got my B.S. in Economics from the Wharton undergrad program at Penn. The odd, and rather sad thing is that I've never been all that interested in finance and never made use of my degree. My concentration was marketing, largely because it was the least financey and mathy of all the options available. Marketing was all about human behavior and telling stories, things which DO interest me. But I've never even used THAT professionally, aside from being practically the only aspiring writer I know who enjoys preparing pitches and writing query letters. If I had college to do over again, I'd switch to the College of Arts and Sciences and major in history and minor in anthropology. I still occasionally toy with going back for an M.A. in History, but I digress...

All that introduction is to explain how remarkable it is that reading The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson, 2008) made me temporarily enthralled by bonds and real estate and hedge funds. It reminded me of This American Life's occasional financial specials since the beginning of the downturn, only it covers centuries instead of years. He makes finance into a series of stories, packed with human interest. The only real downside to the book is that in These Troubled Times, anything of this nature is going to be outdated as soon as it rolls off the presses. Ferguson spotted most of the problem with the subprime crisis, but didn't seem to fully anticipate how global the downturn was destined to become. Nonetheless, he made money interesting, and I'm going to read his books about the British Empire and the Rothschilds.

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