Popes and Bankers

Popes and Bankers: A Cultural History of Credit and Debt, from Aristotle to AIG

By: Jack Cashill

For those that don’t know, one of the places that I write is a personal finance blog, so I have some interest in reading about financial history and the way the financial industry works.  So, when I was given the opportunity to review Popes and Bankers, I jumped on it.  I’m glad that I did.

Popes and Bankers, as the title implies, takes the idea of credit and debt to it’s very roots in biblical history.  Without any perceivable bias, Cashill covered the history of usury and the direct influences that religious leaders have had on it’s use.  I found it very interesting to see how the idea of usury came from being such a “sin” practice, to something that we don’t think twice about on most days.  The first half of this book is very general in it’s coverage of the history of finance, but it finished very directly with how that history molded and shaped the financial crash we saw so recently at the end of the 2000-10 decade.  The story touches on all of the influences that lead to that crash and how the crash was allowed in the first place.

Without laying blame (or at least not laying it too heavily), Cashill has managed to give us a wonderful history of usury (Credit and Debt), and has also made it readable.  It wouldn’t have been hard to believe that a book of this sort would be dry and slow, and I half expected that to be the case.  That just isn’t the case with Popes and Bankers.

One of the strongest flaws that I found while reading is the flaw of not pointing a finger.  Sure, there are a few mentions throughout of who did what and when, but Cashill never out-right names names.  In fact, in several places, it almost seems like he wanted to play it as a “perfect storm” of financial circumstances that was unseen until it came storming in.  For that reason, I came away feeling like the story was lacking an ending.  Cashill is a reporter by trade, so I think that he meant it that way.  And maybe that means it really isn’t a flaw.

If you are at all interested in the history of usury, and the fall of the 2000’s financial bubble, you should pick up a copy of Popes and Bankers.  It has a wonderful overview history of finance/usury and is detailed on the facts of the bubble and it’s burst.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book to read for review.  I try my best to not let that influence my reviews.  In fact, I feel that I am usually more critical of the books that I have been given for review.

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