In the aftermath of recent financial crises, it’s easy to see finance as a wrecking ball: something that destroys fortunes and jobs, and undermines governments and banks. In Money Changes Everything, leading financial historian William Goetzmann argues the exact opposite—that the development of finance has made the growth of civilizations possible. Goetzmann explains that finance is a time machine, a technology that allows us to move value forward and backward through time; and that this innovation has changed the very way we think about and plan for the future. He shows how finance was present at key moments in history: driving the invention of writing in ancient Mesopotamia, spurring the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome to become great empires, determining the rise and fall of dynasties in imperial China, and underwriting the trade expeditions that led Europeans to the New World. He also demonstrates how the apparatus we associate with a modern economy—stock markets, lines of credit, complex financial products, and international trade—were repeatedly developed, forgotten, and reinvented over the course of human history.
Exploring the critical role of finance over the millennia, and around the world, Goetzmann details how wondrous financial technologies and institutions—money, bonds, banks, corporations, and more—have helped urban centers to expand and cultures to flourish. And it’s not done reshaping our lives, as Goetzmann considers the challenges we face in the future, such as how to use the power of finance to care for an aging and expanding population.
Money Changes Everything presents a fascinating look into the way that finance has steered the course of history.
Awards and Recognition
- One of Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2016
- One of Financial Times (FT.com) Best Economics Books of 2016
- Honorable Mention for the 2017 Ralph Gomory Prize, Business History Conference
William N. Goetzmann is the Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Management and director of the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management. His books include The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created the Modern Financial Markets and The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720.
"Only William Goetzmann—an archaeologist, art historian, and esteemed finance scholar—could have produced this masterful exploration of money and investing through the ages. Money Changes Everything is at once deep, broad, sweeping, and gorgeously illustrated. It is a book that readers will savor and refer to again and again."—William Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
"Money is the greatest invention since the wheel. In this masterwork, Money Changes Everything, William Goetzmann traces money's role from prehistoric times to the present, showing how civilizations developed on a bedrock of financial transactions. A beautifully written and compelling book."—Elroy Dimson, University of Cambridge and London Business School
"In Money Changes Everything, readers learn a tremendous amount about the core ideas of finance. William Goetzmann uses a vast range of historical examples to explain why the evolution of finance and civilization are inseparable."—Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"In this engaging book, William Goetzmann, a modern Renaissance man, demonstrates that throughout recorded history, the power of financial technologies has improved human existence. Like other technologies, financial innovations can sometimes be disruptive. Goetzmann, however, shows us that much of the time, these innovations propel economic progress and expand individual opportunities."—Richard Sylla, Stern School of Business, New York University
"If anyone had told me that someone could write coherently and intelligently about Karl Marx, cuneiform tablets, the South Sea bubble, the opium trade, and David's painting Death of Marat between a single set of covers, I would have shaken my head in disbelief. This book accomplishes precisely this. Money Changes Everything does nothing less than to think through the contribution of finance to modern civilization. A thrilling read."—Hans-Joachim Voth, University of Zurich
"Ranging from early civilizations to the present day and moving from the Fertile Crescent to our current global society, this book contains a wealth of interesting observations about the history of finance. Readers will be attracted by the genial tone and tales of personal discovery."—Peter Temin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"This is a long-term history of the development and importance of financial technologies and institutions. A useful synthesis that brings together primary materials, the book argues that financial systems provide the means for advancing civilization."—Graham Oliver, Brown University