The Ascent of Money

Beginning tonight, public television stations in the United States will broadcast a four-part series from economist and historian Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money. This is an expanded version of a documentary that first aired in January.

 

Here's a description of The Ascent of Money from the official site:

For millions of people, the recession has generated a thirst for knowledge about how our global economic system really works, especially when so many financial experts seem to be equally baffled. In THE ASCENT OF MONEY, economist, author and historian Ferguson offers insight into these questions by taking viewers step-by-step through the milestones of the financial history that created this system, visiting the locations where key events took place and poring over actual ledgers and documents — such as the first publicly traded share of a company — that would change human history.

Ferguson maintains that the history of money is indeed at the core of our human history, with economic strength determining political dominance, wars fought to create wealth and individual financial barons determining the fates of millions.

Apparently, PBS will also be posting each episode online for free. The first installment, “From Bullion to Bubbles”, is already available. I watched it this morning. It's fascinating.

Geekiness: For 20+ years (since high school), I've wanted to know why most of the world uses Arabic numerals. Nobody has ever been able to give me an answer. In this show, Ferguson explains the source of this standard!

Ferguson suggests that financial history is the fundamental background to all history. “From Mesopotamia right down to day, the ascent of Money has been an indispensable part of the ascent of Man,” he says, adding: “Without the invention of credit, the entire economic history of our world would have been impossible.”

What I find especially interesting about The Ascent of Money is the way in which it ties together bits of history that are largely unrelated in my mind. It's sort of like Connections, but solely about money. (I knew some of these things from The Four Pillars of Investing, but The Ascent of Money paints a broader picture.)

The first part of The Ascent of Money was interesting enough that I plan to watch the other three episodes as they're made available online. To be honest, though, I felt like the narrative wandered at times. I'm curious if the original two-hour version (already available on DVD) might not be more effective.

If you're interested in this show, you can check the PBS website to see when it airs on your local public television station. (Here in Portland, the four parts air Wednesday nights at 9pm starting today.) You might also try to watch some similar shows from the past, including:

Did anyone catch The Ascent of Money when the original version was broadcast in January? What did you think? And am I the only one around here fascinated by the history of money?

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Seth Miller
Seth Miller
11 years ago

I took a history of math class for fun last winter and it explained a lot of things like that. It is amazing how math was done before Arabic numerals. Using them was what allowed most breakthroughs in math to happen.

sandy
sandy
11 years ago

Thanks for posting this…I’ll make sure I watch. If you are interested in the history of money, the best that I’ve seen on the web is The Crash Course, by Chris Martenson. Money history is broken down into bite size chunks that are easy to digest…maybe get a Pepto Bismol first…ha!

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

Thanks for the information . . . Tivo is now waiting . . .

I enjoy watching and listening to shows about how money works.

And The Farmer’s Wife is one of the best things I have ever seen on PBS.

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

Thanks, JD. I’ll definitely watch (record) tonight … wouldn’t have known about this at all without you.

Victor
Victor
11 years ago

Thanks for being from Portland so I don’t have to click and read the PBS website for local times.

Frugal Bon Vivant
Frugal Bon Vivant
11 years ago

Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll have to watch it. (another Portlander!)

almost there
almost there
11 years ago

Thanks for the link as I will watch it now. I read the book and wanted to see it on TV.

Noel
Noel
11 years ago

I saw the Farmer’s Wife when it first came out. I found it riveting because it was painfully close to my own upbringing on a farm in North Dakota.

Jenzer
Jenzer
11 years ago

My husband and I watched the original documentary back in January. It was fascinating, but I thought it made some broad leaps through history and could have gone into more depth on different issues. Thanks for the head’s up — I’ve set our DVR to record the series on our local station.

Karl Katzke
Karl Katzke
11 years ago

If you’re that fascinated by the history of money and credit, you really need to slog through (I mean, read) Neal Stephenson’s three part “The Baroque Cycle,” which as historical fiction helps put some of the history surrounding the invention of credit into better perspective.

If you read and enjoyed “Cryptonomicon,” you will recognize most of the characters in “The Baroque Cycle.”

Tyler
Tyler
11 years ago

Gearing up to watch. Thanks for the heads up!

Austin
Austin
11 years ago

Thanks JD for sharing such an interesting series. I thought you would like to know that the link for the 1st episode needs to be changed to this: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ascentofmoney/featured/the-ascent-of-money-episode-1-from-bullion-to-bubbles/44/

I think the two-hour special is found here:
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ascentofmoney/featured/watch-the-two-hour-the-ascent-of-money/24/

I found the section titled “Chimerica” especially fascinating. I was surprised to see the power of saving money which is demonstrated by the recent descent in US economic power and position in relation to China. It is also surprising that China is becoming the “World Bank” in such a short period of time.

MoneyEnergy
MoneyEnergy
11 years ago

Niall Ferguson’s a pretty smart guy. He’s the one who coined the term “Chimerica.” Heard an interview with him; will enjoy this series too. Definitely worth checking his book out!

Tony Mahoon
Tony Mahoon
11 years ago

Watched this here in Australia where it was broadcast over the last month or so. Great show, you should definitely watch it.

Garry - thisimprovedlife
Garry - thisimprovedlife
11 years ago

I saw this series a few months back on BBC here in the UK and it was fantastic. It really covers the fundamentals of how and why the financial institutions are the way they are.

Gabe
Gabe
11 years ago

I watched the first episode back in January. I found it very interesting as it talked about how credit came about. I was glued to the TV for the entire program which rarely happens. These topics need to be covered in school.

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
11 years ago

Thanks for sharing the link! My fiance read the book a few months ago and enjoyed it tremendously, so we were both excited to see it’s available on PBS. We watched the first episode last night and really enjoyed it. 🙂

Tyler
Tyler
11 years ago

Well, last night’s episode was quite intriguing. Looks like I’ve got plans for 9 PM Wednesdays for the next few weeks.

HollyP
HollyP
11 years ago

Thanks for posting this. I saw the abbreviated show when it aired last winter, and it was riveting. I will be sure to add the expanded version to my viewing calendar.

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

This documentary must be based on Niall Ferguson’s book “The Ascent of Money.” It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and has been on my reading list. Thanks for letting me know I can watch the PBS show instead.

Antonio
Antonio
11 years ago

“Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles”. Huerta de Soto. There is a pdf version (900 pages) in http://www.mises.org

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

In weeding through some past issues of MONEY magazine this morning, I found an interview with Niall Ferguson in the April 2009 issue. You can read it here: http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/07/pf/ferguson_financial_crisis.moneymag/index.htm

Kim
Kim
11 years ago

Thanks for the heads up on this. It aired here for me at 10pm. It was like history channel crossed with money. Very interesting.

Paul in cAshburn
Paul in cAshburn
11 years ago

Augh! Hopefully the first episode will re-air… but I’ll set the DVR to catch the remaining episodes in any event. I’m interested to see whether it favors Keynes or Mises.

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

I read the book recently, and it was really fascinating. I probably won’t bother to take the time to watch it all again on TV, though.

Scott
Scott
11 years ago

I may not be remembering correctly, but while watching the earlier PBS documentary called “The Ascent of Money”, Niall mentions that he was working on a series of documentaries on the history of money, and due to the events of last year decided to produce that in the meantime. I think I even saw something about it on the PBS website at the time and said the title of it was “The History of Money”. My guess is they decided to bank off of the existing title – not that it would be confusing or anything…

mppaul2
mppaul2
11 years ago

Excellent find! I will tape the re-airing of episode 1 this Sunday and the subsequent series airing on Wednesdays 🙂 Check your local PBS listing, there may be additional re broadcast.

Anna
Anna
11 years ago

If you are interested in reading further about John Law, an excellent book is, “Millionaire: the philanderer, gambler and duelist who invented modern fiance” by Janet Gleeson, which details his career and the first stock bubble.

Peter
Peter
11 years ago

Crescit cum commercio civitas! (Civilization prospers with commerce) The motto of Claremont McKenna College.

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

I’m reading the book right now as part of my summer reading. It’s interesting to see the rise and fall of different countries based solely on whether someone could get a loan.

Ryan Brohman
Ryan Brohman
11 years ago

All the episodes are now posted on the PBS website, and can be watched at:

http://www.pbs.org/video/program/1155680272/

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