Double Entry

Double Entry (2012)  by Jane Gleeson-White is a book that looks at the birth of the double entry book keeping system and its importance. It’s a patchy book that could have been really good but that is messed up by a silly change away from the subject material toward the end.

The book initially looks at the birth of double entry and the codification of it by Luca Pacioli.  Here the book is very interesting and covers a historical figure and discovery that are neglected. Pacioli was a great mathematician in his time and also the person who wrote up the Double Entry book keeping system in one of a number of important mathematics books he wrote at the time.  The book then unfortunately goes overboard in trying to suggest that Double Entry book keeping drove Europe’s remarkable rise. The financial methods developed in the Renaissance are undoubtedly an important part of what helped Europe dominate the globe but bills of exchange, exchanges, futures, the rule of law and other financial tools compose the whole of which double entry is but a part. 

After going through the creation of double entry there is a good discussion of how accounting changed in the C18 and how Marx, Werner Zomart and Max Weber all regarded the double entry system as important.

The book then looks at recent financial fraud and links this, somewhat successfully to double entry. However, business fraud hardly requires double entry and it’s like blaming numbers for the deception. The book then goes on to a discussion of GDP and environmental economics that is unnecessary and full of assertions from activists and academics. Quoting and referring to Naomi Klein in a book on double entry book keeping is daft. In the preface and later on in the book Gleeson-White also compares GDP to company revenue. This is embarrassingly wrong. GDP and profit are arguably related, but even there it’s dubious. 

The book is reasonably well written and seems thoroughly researched. It’s a pity that the final parts of the book were added rather than either ending the book or looking briefly at the financial rise of Europe. 

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