Jacob Soll On Financial Accountability And The Rise And Fall Of Nations

Jul 30, 2015

This Reader's Corner interview was originally broadcast in February, 2015

In the world of empire building, success is a numbers game.  That’s the premise of a book by today’s guest, Jacob Soll, titled The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations.

Soll cites poor accounting practices as the culprit that led to the storming of the French Bastille, the defeat of King Philip the Second’s Spanish Armada and the epic Enron debacle that was felt around the world.  Poor accountability, he writes, has repeatedly led to “financial chaos, economic crimes, civil unrest, and worse.”

In his book, Soll weaves the fascinating stories of true-life accountants and their often number-phobic overlords into narratives set in early Christian society, Renaissance Italy, the Dutch Republic, the British Empire, Colonial America and modern times.  These cautionary tales clearly illustrate the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of character and culpability when it comes to keeping the financial records straight.

Jacob Soll is a professor of history and accounting at the University of Southern California. In addition to The Reckoning, he is the author of  Publishing The Prince: History, Reading and the Birth of Political Criticism, and The Information Master: John Baptist Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System. He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009 and a MacArthur fellowship in 2011.

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