I got this book for Christmas from my brother in law. Didn't really get a chance to start reading it for a couple months and just finished it today on a wonderfully relaxed day. Onto the usual format.
The Good: Niall Ferguson is a heck of a writer with an ability to go deep into history and explain events and themes. He has also written a couple of other very interesting books. In his typical fashion it explains complicated subjects and also keeps things light and interesting through various anecodal stories that blend into the subject at hand. It is a real credit to the author that it reads more like a history book than a college text. I found this book particularly valuable in that it explains, in a way average laymen can understand the history of so many parts of modern financial life. It explains how they came to be as well as how they interact with eachother. It moves along in chapters that are logically grouped by theme (banks, bonds, stocks, insurance, housing, etc) and all wraps together very well.
One of the most interesting things is that it shows so many things are more cyclical or reoccuring than genuinely now. Finance is sort of like movies in that if you boil it all down there are only a few real unique plots.
Also it is very interesting that despite what some hard money folks like to say all currencies were not genuinely 100% redeamable in gold until the early to mid 20th century. It is however true that the long term stability of non redeamable currency is at best questionable.
The Bad: The writer is probably closer to Keynes than Friedman, let alone Mises. Sometimes it shows in his writing. However this does not detract from the overall quality or value of the book.
The Ugly: On the whole this book did a great job at explaining very complicated financial subjects in a manner where moderately intelligent laymen can understand them. However at times a couple sentences of explanation or background would have been very helpful. It is like the author occasionally forgot his audience is made up of people who like nonfiction books and had $16 in their pocket instead of Harvard finance majors.
All things considered I would suggest this book to anyone who is interested in our current economic/ financial system and how it came to be. I got a deeper understanding of many parts of it by seeing where, when and how it all came to be. It wasn't too expensive and was an easy read.