The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession By Peter L. Bernstein
Publisher: Wiley 2004 | 304 Pages | ISBN: 0470091002 | PDF (HQ) | 37.7 MB
Incorporating myth, history and contemporary investigation, Bernstein tells the story of how human beings have become intoxicated, obsessed, enriched, impoverished, humbled and proud for the sake of gold. From the past to the future, Bernstein's portrayal of gold is intimately linked to the character of humankind.
In the first chapter of his book The Power of Gold, Peter Bernstein quotes the immortal words of King Ferdinand of Spain, who once declared: "Get gold, humanely if possible, but at all hazards--get gold." As ensuing chapters reveal, man's obsession with finding, keeping, selling, and evaluating gold has rarely been a humane adventure and has always been a hazardous one. Digging deeply into history's treasury of torrid tales and complicated deals, Bernstein examines gold's lure with an economist's passion for quantification, a historian's eye for detail, and a sociologist's feel for its consequence.
Useless as a metal for most practical purposes, gold originally held value as decoration and adornment for the wealthy ancients. Later, it was minted and used as coins by the Lydians in 635 B.C. That, Bernstein goes on to reveal, put gold on a path from the concrete to the abstract, from evidence of wealth to the standard behind wealth in other forms, and finally to the tenuous place it holds in today's virtual world of credit cards and computer chips. Along the way lie wild stories of lives destroyed, fortunes won and quickly lost, and values transformed: the massacre by the Spanish invader Pizarro, whose small band of men decimated the formidable army of Emperor Atahualpa, "the Inca," through more duplicity than military skill; the roller-coaster ride of the 1890s, when the rippling impact of the Baring Brothers bank crisis in Britain sent the isolated United States into an economic meltdown; and the surplus of the Gold Coast natives of Timbuktu, who willingly traded their gold for much-needed salt, ounce for ounce.
Bernstein is a great storyteller. His accounts of mythological, ancient, and recent history ooze with odd and entertaining details that bring each successive tale of obsession to life. If not for his skill, the sheer volume of events collected here--presented more anecdotally than systematically--would be overwhelming. In the end, though, it is Bernstein's fascination with the power of gold to entangle and entrap its possessors, and its ultimate ability to change the course of entire eras and civilizations, that makes his book as fascinating as it is informative. A dense but entertaining read. --S. Ketchum
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