I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s bestselling, prize-winning Wolf Hall. I’m a little late to the party – it was published in 2009 and the mini series has already screened on BBC 2 – but wow! What a novel. The reign of Henry VIII – and especially his second marriage to Anne Boleyn and the reverberations it caused across Christendom – has always been one of my favourite periods of English history, and Mantel retells it in mesmerising fashion. I was utterly gripped, even though at times the detail became too much even for me (a lover of detail). I can see why William Skidelsky chose it as one of his ten best historical novels in May 2012 (along with my favourite novel, War and Peace, the sublime The Leopard and Pat Barker’s extraordinary Regeneration trilogy).
I was always going to read Wolf Hall, but I became especially interested in it when I heard that it was told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, whose famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger features the most beautiful book of the age: Luca Pacioli’s Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportione et proportionalita. Published in Venice in 1494, Pacioli’s Summa was the first mathematical encyclopaedia of Europe and contains his famous double-entry bookkeeping treatise.
Here’s a quote from Wolf Hall (from Part Four, II) which not only captures Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell, but also seizes the mood of those turbulent times: as Europe shifted from a medieval world in thrall to the Church of Rome to a new era ruled by merchants and money, an age monk and mathematician Luca Pacioli helped to usher into being.
‘How can he [Cromwell] explain to him? The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and the shot.’
It was of course Luca Pacioli, the so-called Father of Accounting, who sparked my unlikely interest in accounting – and led to my writing not one but two books about its enthralling history: Double Entry and Six Capitals. I’ll be talking about accounting – mostly about my new book Six Capitals – in the next few months in Brisbane, Melbourne, New York, Sydney and New Zealand. Here are the details of these events so far:
7 – 9 am, Friday 27 March 2015
Brisbane Writers Festival Literary Breakfast
Customs House, 399 Queen Street, Brisbane
4.30 – 6.30 pm, Thursday 16 April 2015
Swinburne Leadership Dialogue, Swinburne Leadership Institute
Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Melbourne
Wednesday 6 May 2015
Accountants Club of America
11.15 am – 12 pm: meet and greet
12 pm – 2 pm: luncheon and speaker
Club 101, 101 Park Avenue, Corner of 40th and Park Avenue, Lobby Level
Friday 8 May 2015
New York University
5 – 7 pm: Presentation and roundtable discussion
More details to come
Details to come
Wednesday 3 June: Auckland
Thursday 4 June: Wellington
Details to come
I’ll be posting details of these events on my events page as they’re confirmed, so stay tuned.