Book review: Never knew that accounting can be this interesting

“The Reckoning: Financial accountability and the rise and fall of nations” by Jacob Soll

This book tells the greatest stories on the evolution of accounting. All of the crucial people, all of the manipulation and missed opportunities were all told in an engaging style of writing, while slowly describing most of the functions of accounting. An observant reader with no prior accounting knowledge would eventually understand the basics of bookkeeping while learning who initiate the law and why he initiated it.

The book is filled with stories of men like Luca Pacioli, whom considered as the father of accounting. He argued that the merchants is the key figure in a republic, because they “could count, calculate and manage abundances and war, famine and pestilence” and because “they were disciplined and vigilant managers of both business and government.”

There’s also Robert Walpole, the First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Britain’s first Prime Minister that was probably the original Robin Hood, due to his reputation as a wily master of state finance.

And then there’s Frederick Winslow Taylor, whom revolutionized the industrial and labour efficiency, and inspired the making of Harvard Business School, inspired Henry Ford, interested by Stalin and Lenin, and admired by Hitler.

But the best feature for me got to be the detailed stories of the great historical figures and how they use accounting as one of their success formula, From Cosimo de Medici, the Sun King and his finance minister Jean-Babtise Colbert, to Benjamin Franklin, to the founders of PriceWaterhouse, Ernst & Young, and McKinsey.

Indeed, the book directly highlights how the discipline level of bookkeeping slowly became the core foundation for a businesses and/or nations, and can eventually make or break an empire. I never knew that accountants have such a central role in the world, as the impartial referee between business and government dedicated to numbers and orders.

The author can also delightfully relate all the activities of the men who made and shaped the Renaissance, into the many paintings about them. And explains the paintings’ rich back stories, the intentions, and even experts’ interpretations of them.

It’s not easy researching how the big names in history deal with their accounting books. But yet the author can manage to find credible references for it and re-tell the facts in a good flow of writing that turn this “boring subject” into a very interesting narrative. 5 stars.

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