I beat up on Niall Ferguson a few days ago for misunderstanding bankruptcy law (the phrase was "doesn't know diddly squat"). I haven't changed my mind on that post, but I could add that I hadn't read the whole book at the time. I have now had a chance to tackle the whole book (it was my first purchase with my new Christmas Kindle), and fairness requires me to add: the book as a whole is quite good very much worth the investment both in money and in time.
I think that Fergson's oeuvre has to be rated on the whole as somewhat uneven. His massive biography of The Rothschilds is a major production, the book that badly needed to be written on a fascinating and important topic. The Cash Nexus was fun but somewhat indeterminate. Colossus just bit off more than it could chew. The new one--that would be The Ascent of Money--is in a different category from any of its predecessors: it is a deliberately structured "popularization" (of sorts) on a specific and manageably well defined 's topic. And Ferguson makes clear that, whatever his skills as an original researcher, he's also well equipped to tell an immense (and immensely complicated) story in an accessible and comprehensible manner.
People who read books like The Rothschilds will already know most of what Ferguson has to tell here. Few of these, I think, would be able to present it with such clarity and grace. Quite a few people have attempted this sort of task: there are, when you stop to think about it, quite a few non-technical accounts of the history of money, investing, or some such. Some are really bad; some are okay, and only a few are really top notch. Ferguson's certainly counts as one of the best. Just skip those few pages about what he (thought he) saw in Memphis.