Made of Money: A Reading List

A crash course in the future of cash, finance, economics, and trade

3 min read

A close-up of a dollar note.
Made of Money logo depicting the series title on a coin, and a U.S. dollar sign

Our Made of Money sections looks at the future of money. We’ve compiled a reading + listening + watch list that should bring you into the thick of the current discussions around global economics, cashless societies, and the difference between digital and “crypto” currencies.


“Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

–John Locke, 1689


Start Here

One of the earliest modern economists, Scotsman Adam Smith was part of a new breed of 18th-century thinkers. In here, you’ll find the origins of basic financial tenets that still frame economics today: the “invisible hand” of free markets, division of labor, wage specifics, international treaties of commerce, and precisely how to grow a society toward opulence.


Then Try

Even if you’re not interested in the stock market, it’s worth perusing the first chapter of this book, “A Short History of Capitalism,” to get a sense of where global trade and national banks have their roots. All the better that it explains the evolution from unpaid serfdom to capitalism in language meant for high-schoolers. I read the whole thing with the intention of starting an investment portfolio but do love to offer up some obscure factoids every once and again–like how the world’s first stock exchange dates back to 1602, with bartering for shares of the United Dutch East India Company on a bridge in Amsterdam.

  • Limits to Growth
    By Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens [1972]

Nearly 45 years ago, environmental scientists from MIT created a computing model that projected and analyzed the future of global resource consumption. Even after adjusting agricultural productivity, birth control rates, and certain environmental precautions, they ultimately concluded that humanity was headed for global disaster sometime around 2030. Often credited with launching the environmental movement, they published an update in 2004.

A close-up of a coin.

Go Modern

Now that we’ve covered a bit of money’s history with full-length books, let’s dig into some more current web reads about the many facets of modern money. We’ve organized them by section so you can consider a number of (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints about the same topics at once.


Cash Money

Virtual Currency

These, Because They’re Fun

A close-up of a circuit board.

Lend an Ear


Take a Look

A Map of Every Country’s Debt
Here’s an interactive look at every nation’s debt scaled against its GDP ratio. In this case, debt is measured in dollars and GDP is measured in the value of goods and services produced each year.


How the U.S. Dollar Spread Across the World
Check out this unnarrated visual interactive tracking the spread of the dollar as the reserve-based currency from–which has produced a number of other fantastic data maps and short money explainers. It’s set against a rather dramatic dance club beat for your enjoyment. [4-minute Vimeo clip]

Money As Debt
An animated feature documentary by videographer Paul Grignon explaining, in his words, “the perversity of today’s money-debt system.” [47-minute YouTube clip]

What Causes Economic Bubbles?
Still confused about the dot-com bubble burst of 2000? This smart video about tulip rage will help. [4-minute TEDEd clip on YouTube]

The Big Short
A 2015 Oscar-nominated feature film based on the Michael Lewis book about the U.S subprime mortgage crisis. Brad Pitt’s in it. So is Ryan Gosling. And it’s actually really funny. [4-minute YouTube trailer, 2-hour and 10-minute movie in theaters]

Made of Money logo depicting the series title on a coin, and a U.S. dollar sign

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Made of Money section, which covers the future of cash, finance, economics, and trade. Click the logo to read more.