Businesses have acted as an artery of global life since time immemorial. Our lives and culture today would be severely curtailed without the innovation and trade that have been fostered for centuries by businesses. If we are to have a good grasp of history we need to include in our reading those books which explore the history of commerce. Jane Gleeson-White’s book, Double Entry, is a good book to help the general reader not only enhance their understanding of this history but also to gain better insight into financial issues that affect every person on this planet today.
This book is an enjoyable and provocative read. It traces the history of double entry book-keeping which is at the core of financial reporting and record keeping of businesses the world over. Author of Double Entry, Jane Gleeson-White initially focuses on the enormous contribution of Venetian merchants to the emergence of double entry book-keeping and in particular that of fifteenth century mathematician Luca Pacioli. The genius of Pacioli was his ability to communicate new mathematical concepts to a broad audience using three significant developments of the era – the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals, writing in the vernacular instead of Latin (because it could be read by more people) and publishing his work using the printing press. Pacioli had to explain Hindu-Arabic numerals in his book and how they could be used in basic arithmetic because many of his readers were unfamiliar with this new development.
In twenty-seven pages that reverberated throughout the European business world for centuries to come, Pacioli explained how the Venetian businessmen kept records of their business dealings using double entry book-keeping. Gleeson-White has written Double Entry for a general audience. To do this she draws extensively on Pacioli’s fifteenth-century treatise on book-keeping for he too was communicating to an audience who had no background in this form of account keeping. I thought that Gleeson-White’s use of Pacioli’s examples worked well. She does not assume that the reader has any knowledge of double entry book-keeping. The language she uses is engaging and where necessary she gives simple and clear explanations of how double entry book-keeping works. Continue reading