Book Review: Popes & Bankers: A Cultural History of Credit & Debt from Aristotle to AIG

Jack Cashill is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in many noteworthy periodicals. In this book, he has written an accessible account of the infamous history of credit and debt. Not having any formal education in finance, I found this book interesting and challenging in trying to follow the unfamiliar language. Overall, however, I would recommend it as a great book looking into the trials and warnings that usury and prodigality bring about.

Since you’re asking it in your head, as I did, I’ll define usury and prodigality. Usury is the charging of interest. Prodigality is the overspending, typical of Americans, when one doesn’t have the means to do so. Think the prodigal son. He was prodigal in that he lavishly spent well beyond his means.

Cashill demonstrates the history of the Jews, beginning with Moses, and their regulations against usury.  As he traces through history, we see their denial of their denial against usury and the problems it brought about. Not only does he easily track the origins of the banking industry and their faulty practices, but he brings it right up to the present housing debacle here in the States.

I was very impressed with his sense of thoroughness and ease of prose. The terminology found throughout most of the book was for the already financial literate, but full of history and its stories, which were enlightening. For those looking for something out of their normal reading, especially those of us who need to get out of our normal genres, this book is a great read.

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