Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich

Thomas Levenson. Random House, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9846-7
Wall Street owes its origins to a previous pandemic, according to this colorful and well-informed history of the ideas behind modern finance. Science journalist Levenson (The Hunt for Vulcan) notes that when Trinity College shut its doors in 1665 due to the ravages of bubonic plague, Isaac Newton self-isolated at his family home in Woolsthorpe, England, where he laid the foundations for his theories of physics and calculus (“the mathematics of change”). Levenson links those innovations and other scientific revolution advances to the South Sea Bubble of 1711–1720, the world’s first and “archetypal” stock market crash, when shares of the South Sea joint stock company rose from 100 to 1,000 British pounds within a year, then plummeted. He also chronicles the development of actuarial mathematics by mathematician and astronomer Edmond Halley (who predicted the return of Halley’s Comet), documents the selling of public debt to raise money for the Nine Years’ War against France, and notes that safeguards enacted in the aftermath of the 2008 stock market crash have already been rolled back. Levenson has a keen eye for obscure yet revealing anecdotes, and sketches historical figures with verve. This erudite and entertaining history offers a fresh take on high finance. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 06/08/2020
Release date: 06/16/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-8129-8796-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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