Financial history

The South Sea Company’s bonds were never meant to be a scam

In Money for Nothing, Thomas Levenson brings us into the story of the South Sea Bubble by writing about the development of the mathematics of odds and prediction. These advances were the beginnings of actuarial science: an understanding of risk that underpins insurance. We start with Isaac Newton and his role in attempting to stabilise the currency with something we now think of as quite normal: currency revaluation (Levenson’s previous work on Newton means he’s well prepared here). Much of early modern Europe based their currencies on silver, and fluctuations in the value of the metal were a recurring issue. Ongoing wars meant England was massively in debt, and having