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The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, 2nd Edition

The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, 2nd Edition

Peter L. Bernstein, Paul A. Volcker (Foreword by)

ISBN: 978-1-118-28269-4

Mar 2012

448 pages



"The need for realism in reform of its monetary system is what makes Bernstein’s story of the Power of Gold so timely. It is a compelling reminder that maintaining a fixed price for gold and fixed exchange rates were difficult even in a simpler financial environment….Peter Bernstein was reluctant to project the story of gold into the future. But to me his message was clear. Yes, gold will be with us, valued not only for its intrinsic qualities but as a last refuge and store of value in turbulent times. But its days as money, as a means of payment and a fixed unit of account are gone."
From the New Foreword by Paul Volcker

This bestselling book reveals a record of human nature in the ubiquity of gold with a new foreword by Paul Volcker

In this exciting book, the late Peter L. Bernstein tells the story of history's most coveted, celebrated, and inglorious asset: gold. From the ancient fascinations of Moses and Midas through the modern convulsions caused by the gold standard and its aftermath, gold has led many of its most eager and proud possessors to a bad end. And while the same cycle of obsession and desperation may reverberate in today's fast-moving, electronically-driven markets, the role of gold in shaping human history is the striking feature of this tumultuous tale. Such is the power of gold.

Whether it is Egyptian pharaohs with depraved tastes, the luxury-mad survivors of the Black Death, the Chinese inventor of paper money, the pirates on the Spanish Main, or the hardnosed believers in the international gold standard, gold has been the supreme possession. It has been an icon for greed and an emblem of rectitude, as well as a vehicle for vanity and a badge of power that has shaped the destiny of humanity through the ages.

  • Discusses the beginnings of gold as something with magical, religious, and artistic qualities and follows its trail as we progress to the invention of coinage, the transformation of gold into money, and the gold standard
  • Other bestselling books by the late Peter Bernstein: Against the Gods, Capital Ideas, and Capital Ideas Evolving
  • Contemplates gold from the diverse perspectives of monarchs and moneyers, potentates and politicians, men of legendary wealth and others of more plebeian beginnings

Far more than a tale of romantic myths, daring explorations, and the history of money and power struggles, The Power of Gold suggests that the true significance of this infamous element may lie in the timeless passions it continues to evoke, and what this reveals about ourselves.

Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xiii

PROLOGUE: The Supreme Possession 1


1. Get Gold at All Hazards 9

2. Midas’s Wish and the Creatures of Pure Chance 18

3. Darius’s Bathtub and the Cackling of the Geese 38

4. The Symbol and the Faith 52

5. Gold, Salt, and the Blessed Town 66

6. The Legacy of Eoba, Babba, and Udd 74

7. The Great Chain Reaction 85

8. The Disintegrating Age and the Kings’ Ransoms 96

9. The Sacred Thirst 114


10. The Fatal Poison and Private Money 135

11. The Asian Necropolis and Hien Tsung’s Inadvertent Innovation 158

12. The Great Recoinage and the Last of the Magicians 175

13. The True Doctrine and the Great Evil 198

14. The New Mistress and the Cursed Discovery 219

15. The Badge of Honor 239

16. The Most Stupendous Conspiracy and the Endless Chain 260


17. The Norman Conquest 283

18. The End of the Epoch 306

19. The Transcending Value 328

20. World War Eight and the Thirty Ounces of Gold 346

EPILOGUE: The Supreme Possession? 367

Notes 373

Bibliography 397

Index 409

"Bernstein's book is a fascinating read, especially in light of the recent run-up in the price of gold. Should gold once again be viewed as a currency, as so many commentators have suggested? Were he still alive, Bernstein might laconically answer, 'Read my book.'" (Seeking Alpha, May 2012)