March 17, 2013
Book Review - Double Entry: How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world and how their invention could make or break the Planet by Jane Gleeson-White
In the fourteenth century, Venetian merchants were using Roman numerals and an abacas to manage their businesses. Hindu-Arabic numerals were viewed with great suspicion and were in fact outlawed until their subversive use became so widespread that they had to be accepted. These numbers also enabled developments in painting (through the understanding of perspective transforming the flat two dimensional pre- Renaissance paintings) and architecture, spawning the great buildings we see on Grand Tours today. Their great benefit was to enable the use of arithmetical calculations on paper. The principle of double entry accounting launched the great merchant shipping voyages and through ever increasing complexity underpins our great global corporations today. This is an entertaining historical account of the rise of accounting practice (OK! I have no life!); its great advances and its great shortcomings. After the great Depression of the 1930s and during the two World Wars, countries saw the need to embrace a national accounting system which has gradually developed to guide many international transactions. The people developing these systems knew they were limited in their capacity to quantify indirect costs such as environmental damage. This is the next great challenge in corporate and national accounting.