Kwasi Kwarteng makes it clear from the start that his reason for writing this book was a desire to understand the 2008 financial crisis, rather than a burning need to write the story promised, though not entirely delivered, by the title. Like any good historian, he went further and further back to find the roots of the crisis, locating them in the 16th century. This is perfectly reasonable, providing as it does a period of economically useful large-scale inflation, but his handling of the narrative makes for an oddly shaped book: the first hundred pages cover four centuries, the next fifty discuss the period 1914 to 1945, while the final two hundred – more than half the book – are devoted to after 1945. What he is trying to write is a history of money up to the present; what he actually writes is a history of money in some places, at some times. He would probably rejoin that he has chosen the most important places at the most important times, and who are we to argue?
Kwarteng begins with the story of the Spanish conquistadors and their conquest of great empires, which yielded silver and gold beyond anticipation. What was also not anticipated was what Keynes described in his Treatise on Money as ‘profit inflation’, which ‘commenced in 1519 when the Aztec spoils arrived, and terminated