I have at last finished A Financial History of Western Europe by Charles Kindleberger — all 464 closely-written pages of it.

It has given me an awful lot of background on the development of our financial system. The most striking thing was how much of 19th- and 20th-century economic policy was devoted to maintaining or restoring relatively fixed exchange-rate regimes, and the kinds of things that countries would put up with — like persistent deflation — to keep their exchange rates constant. It all struck me as putting currency stability above economic growth for essentially aesthetic reasons.

I have ordered Manias, Panics and Crashes by the same author, which is supposed to be the best non-mathematical account of financial crises past.