In truth, I’ve never previously considered the history behind money; my main focus tends to be on how to make more of the stuff.
With this in mind I was surprised by how quickly I was drawn into the story of Edinburgh’s journey of wealth.
Bookended by the two biggest financial catastrophes of our time – The Darien disaster of 1700 and the crash of 2008
– Perman paints a fascinating picture of the pursuit of money, power and the ‘heroes and villains’ who orchestrated it all.
The book could definitely stand to incorporate more images, not least to break up the text on what is a lengthy and complex narrative, but particularly to give a clearer idea of how Edinburgh changed over the centuries and the way in which the growing wealth and progress shaped the capital and its inhabitants.
One particularly well-known name from Edinburgh’s history is Henry Dundas who became one of the most dominant figures in Scottish politics during the 1700s. What many people might not know is that there was another Dundas – Sir Lawrence – with whom Henry staged a bitter rivalry. Their story demonstrates how the political gains and losses across the country during this period rested heavily on the financial might and infl uence of a mere handful of men.
Another key player Perman considers is the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott. Scott’s penchant for extravagance drew him to spend beyond his means, and despite being able to borrow vast amounts of money because of his considerable social standing, he fell into financial ruin before eventually writing himself out of it.
For anyone interested in discovering more about Edinburgh’s journey to become one of the UK’s largest financial centres, second only to London, this is a worthwhile read. Throughout these 300 years the power of the banks has waned but the allure and power of money has not.
The Rise and Fall of The City of Money: A Financial History of Edinburgh, by Ray Perman, published by Birlinn, £25.