By: Brad Sanders
To truly understand investment markets, a firm grasp of human history is paramount. After all, as the study of behavioral finance has shown us, human beings – whether in the current century or 300 years ago – tend to behave very similar. As with most situations, learning through history can provide a thorough roadmap of how to navigate certain scenarios.
One of the world’s most preeminent historians is Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow for the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. I have read many of Ferguson’s books and seen him present multiple times. He is one of the smartest people I have ever encountered, and I believe his new book to be his best yet.
The square and the tower
In his new book, The Square and the Tower, Networks and Power, Ferguson explores networks, how they come to be, and how they shape the world. The title is lifted from Siena, 1312, where he describes the “square” as the meeting place for informal interaction between commoners, and the early emergence of the network. The “tower,” representing power, as where the nobility sat and ruled.
Mr. Ferguson postulates that there has always been a hierarchy that exists. And although modern advances, like the internet and social media, will affect the fabric of human culture –the balance of power has always existed in a world in which the ruling elite steer civilization.
“To be sure, there have never been such large networks as we see in the world today. Nor have the flows of information – or for that matter, disease – ever been so rapid. But scale and speed are not everything.”
The modern social network
The book begins defining networks, how they come into being, then explores various points throughout a vast amount of history. From the Renaissance to Gutenberg, up to the 2016 Presidential Election, explaining how networks shaped each event. Ferguson spends a good deal of time on Facebook and Twitter, and explains how the advent of disinformation coming through social media shaped the outcome of the election. His illustrations and historical examples of various networks are mind boggling, and bring into focus how a small dot in history presents conditions as they truly are.
What is old is new again
The conclusion taken from this book is that the advent of social media and the internet is actually just a speck in time. As individuals in the “square,” we see and feel their effects more greatly in our daily lives, yet in fact there are numerous examples in history very similar.
In a recent speech, Ferguson says that the idea of global interconnection via social media seems like a good thing on the surface. However, his book will lead the reader to conclude that the actual effects are rather dismal, and threatens to upset a social fabric several centuries in the making. In his opinion, it is now up to the free thinkers and intellectuals among us to save humanity from itself, by steering the ship towards the proper direction.
In my opinion, this book is a masterpiece, and should be read by anyone that enjoys history. You get a sense of where we are, viewed through the eye of one of the best historians alive. After reading this book, you too can see how Niall Ferguson would say, “Technologies come and go. The world remains a world of squares and towers.”
Join us next month as we step outside the box
Are you trapped inside the box of self-deception? As a leader, are you blinded to one of the biggest inhibitors of success, yourself? Follow along with us next month as CWA Partner Dan Wicker picks up a revised version of the international bestseller Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute.