Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Required reading: Gold prices

The price of gold is plummeting. Here's our guide to the books to read about the history of gold, how and why it became synonymous with value, and how it helped lay the foundations for the development of money.

The price of gold is in free fall. The biggest drop in the price for 30 years – from US$1,580 (Dh5,803) an ounce last week to $1,380 (Dh5,068) at the time of writing – has wiped $30 billion off the value of global gold reserves. Various theories have been floated on the cause of this sudden depreciation. Some point to advice from Goldman Sachs to sell gold, others to rumours that Cyprus and other European countries are planning for a huge sale of the precious metal in the near future.

But why is gold such a significant metal? How did it become a universally recognised repository of value? And what role does it play in the modern global economy? Time to turn to the books.

Go first to Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession for a survey from prehistory to the present day. Bernstein says our prehistoric ancestors elevated gold – rare, beautiful, mysterious – to a substance imbued with spiritual significance – and so the -obsession began.

The ancient historian Herodotus tells us that the Lydians were the first to use gold coins as a medium of exchange around 650BC. Read A History of Gold and Money by Pierre Vilar to learn how gold and money have always been intimately linked.

Stop off along the way to remember, too, the role that gold played in the foundation of the American dream. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War (Vintage, Dh56) by Leonard Richards looks back to a seminal moment in the American story.

In the 19th century, the currencies of both the US and UK were backed by gold: a citizen of the US could take his dollar to the central bank and receive gold in return. Read Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and The Great Depression (OUP USA, Dh84) by Barry Eichengreen to learn how gold-backed currencies unravelled: President Nixon finally ended the guaranteed conversion of the dollar to gold in 1971.

Of course, gold – still rare, still beautiful – is no less valuable for that. Indeed, if our money is no longer backed by gold, the question, surely, is not “What is the meaning gold?” but “What is the meaning of money?” Read the economic historian Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money for some surprising answers.


twitter Follow us @LifeNationalUAE

Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National