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The Ascent of Money: Bonds of War

Airs Wednesday, July 15 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Financial historian and best-selling author Niall Ferguson traces the evolution of money in THE ASCENT OF MONEY, based on his book of the same title. Ferguson maintains that the history of money is indeed at the core of our human history, with economic strength determining political dominance, wars fought to create wealth and individual financial barons determining the fates of millions.

Money and war have long had a close relationship. In early 19th-century London, the powerful Rothschild family helped the British government finance its war against Napoleon and, despite a nearly catastrophic miscalculation of the war’s duration that could have led to financial ruin, found an opportunity to create enormous wealth through the purchase of British bonds. Fifty years later, the relationship between war and money would again be felt in America’s Civil War, when the Confederacy attempted, with disastrous results, to finance itself by boosting the value of its cotton — its only tangible asset — by placing an embargo on exports to Britain. In Great Britain, the Duke of Buckingham became the first great landowner to see his wealth disappear as the value of his land plummeted, marking the beginning of the end of the British aristocracy. And in 1914, the assassination of another Duke —Ferdinand — would bring an end to the first wave of economic globalization within a matter of weeks. Watch a preview and the first episode online.