The Ascent of Money is an interesting book, although pretty flawed as a general piece of non-fiction. It covers rather quickly the evolution of four underpinnings of modern finance: the bond market, the stock market, insurance, and the real estate market. Niall Ferguson brings up rather interesting (and relevant) historical warnings that show that today's financial meltdown should not really have been unexpected. However, the book is not written for a layperson: Prof. Ferguson tosses around lots of financial jargon without much explanation. The Economist's review is pretty apt. Still, I found it to be a mildly entertaining read, and it complemented the book A Splendid Exchange well (although Bernstein's book is better).