Author(s): Jane Gleeson-White
How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world - and how their invention could make or break the planet.
A fascinating exploration of how a simple system used to measure and record wealth spawned a cultural revolution. Prepare to have your idea of accounting changed forever.
'The rise and metamorphosis of double-entry bookkeeping is one of history's best-kept secrets and most important untold tales ... Through its logic we have let the planet go to ruin-and through its logic we now have a chance to avert that ruin.'
Our world is governed by the numbers generated by the accounts of nations and corporations. We depend on these numbers to direct our governments, organisations, economies, societies. But where did they come from-and how did they become so powerful?
The answer to these questions begins in the Dark Ages, with the emergence in northern Italy of a new form of accounting called double-entry bookkeeping. The story of double entry reaches from the Crusades through the Renaissance to the factories of industrial Britain and the policymakers of the Great Depression and the Second World War. At its heart stands a Renaissance monk, mathematician and magician, and his celebrated treatise for merchants. With double entry came the wealth and cultural efflorescence that was the Renaissance, a new scientific worldview, and a new economic system: capitalism.
Over the past one hundred years accounting has flourished to an astonishing degree, despite the many scandals it has left in its wake. The figures double entry generates have become a sophisticated system of numbers which in the twenty-first century rules the global economy, manipulated by governments, financial institutions and the quant nerds of Wall Street.
And the story of double entry is still unfolding-because today it might be our last hope for life on earth.
Jane Gleeson-White has worked as a writer and editor in Sydney and London since 1990. She has a bachelor of economics and an honours degree in English literature from the University of Sydney, and was an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. She is the author of Classics (2005) and Australian Classics (2007). She is the fiction editor of Overland literary journal, and a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. She blogs about bookish things at here. She has edited many books including novels by Christos Tsiolkas, Malcolm Knox, Charlotte Wood and Luke Davies.