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Book Excerpt: Cowries To Crypto

Book Reviews | Dec 22 2020

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth“, written by Jame DiBiasio and illustrated by Harry Harrison, has been published by financial services provider Oanda. FNArena has been given permission to publish a series of illustrations from the book.

From the press release: “The book begins with our ancestors bartering salt for spears, before transporting us to the caves counting was invented in, exploring why the Pharaohs never cottoned on to exchanging gold and how the Chinese invented coins, before the Ancient Greeks astonished the world by what they did with them.

“It examines why, from The Age of Discovery onwards, world power would increasingly be based on credit, how the Dutch invented the stock market and became the first capitalist society, celebrates the birth of the Bank of England, dabbles in the world’s greatest financial crises, charts the rise to dominance of the dollar and explores how now, in the age of cryptocurrency, the value of different currencies has come to be based on mathematics and open-source code rather than faith in governments.”

Image 1: Money is one of the oldest inventions, enabling people to collaborate and exchange.

Image 2: In the ancient Mediterranean, “bankers” were glorified currency brokers and loan sharks, but the invention of coins transformed society.

Image 3: Spain’s conquest of the New World led to an influx of wealth that initially created a boom in the home economy, until rampant inflation led to bust.

Image 4: Nations that developed the deepest capital markets and most trustworthy money markets could finance their wars, which is what helped Britain defeat Napoleon.

Image 5: Money reflects culture, and in the young US democracy, arguments abounded over the role of money and banking.

Image 6: Early European monetary systems and banknotes were ultimately tied to the price of gold, but from the outset the U.S. had a taste for printing money backed purely by the government’s wordfiat currency.

Image 7: Since the 1970s the world’s currencies have floated rather than be tied to gold, which has led to incredible prosperity as well as massive financial instability.

Image 8: Technology continues to widen people’s access to financial services, such as the great breakthrough from Kenya: the invention of sending money by mobile phones.

About the Author
Jame DiBiasio is an American author and award-winning financial journalist based in Hong Kong. He is currently founder and editor of DigFin Group, a website covering digital finance, at He is a published author of thrillers and history. Find out more at

About the Illustrator
Based in Hong Kong, Harry Harrison is a freelance cartoonist perhaps best known for his daily political satire in the South China Morning Post. However, his work has also appeared internationally in publications such as IFR, The Guardian, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal Asia and the Far Eastern Economic Review, occasionally picking up awards along the way. He is a proud member of the UK’s Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation:

About the Publisher
In 1996, OANDA became the first organisation to share exchange rate data free of charge on the internet, launching an FX trading platform that helped pioneer the development of internet-based currency trading five years later. Today, OANDA provides online multi-asset trading, payments, money transfers and currency data to corporates and consumers alike, demonstrating an unrivalled expertise in foreign exchange. Regulated by seven major authorities and with offices in the world’s most active financial markets, the firm remains dedicated to transforming the business of foreign exchange. For more information, please visit

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth is published by OANDA and available from, priced at $31.99

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