THE POWER OF GOLD by Peter L. Bernstein
Kirkus Star


The History of an Obsession
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A glittering history of the prominence of gold in the world economy and the human imagination.

Bernstein (Against the Odds, 1996, etc.) returns with this engaging tale of golden dreams and grand delusions. After a brief but wry prologue (“we yearn for gold and yawn at steel”) the author whisks us back to Biblical times and there begins his chronological tour of mines and mints, of alchemy and macroeconomics. People, he reveals, used gold for adornment long before they used it for money (the first gold coins were fashioned around 700 B.C.), and it was the legendary Croesus who transformed precious metals into “the ultimate standards of wealth and money.” With a truly masterful grasp of economic history, Bernstein guides us through culture after culture, showing how the passion for gold both animated and destroyed. Among the most affecting sections is his account of Pizarro’s destruction of the Inca. Bernstein offers, as well, the stories of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (“Asia turned out to be a sponge for gold and silver”); he rehearses the little-known career of Sir Isaac Newton as Warden of the Mint (and asserts that Newton’s failed career reveals how “[e]conomics is evidently a lot more difficult than physics”). He re-tells the stories of the California and Klondike gold rushes (the latter, he claims, was “relatively unimportant in the long history of gold”). Most chilling are his repeated observations that adherence to the gold standard is part of the “grand illusion of gold”—that it is a serious error to fail to “comprehend the difference between useless metal and real wealth.” The chapters dealing with modern and contemporary economic history are understandably more complicated and demanding.

A mine of information for lovers of bezants, florins, dinars and ducats—and for those who wonder how a shiny metal came to decorate, then dominate, the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2000
ISBN: 0-471-25210-7
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2000


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