More Than a Numbers Game: A Brief History of Accounting

BY CHERYL ROSEN

by Thomas A. King
John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2006, 242 pp.

Thomas A. King’s light-handed romp through the annals of accounting history brings together the facts, the data, the personalities and some of the best lines of the past 20 years. King takes a principles-based approach to history, focusing on the big and controversial ideas that have transformed accounting, from the invention of double-entry bookkeeping in the 15th century to the expensing of stock options this year under FASB Statement no. 123(R).

Starting with the premise that honest and intelligent people often disagree in theory and in practice, he balances an obvious respect for the profession with an equal respect for the truth, plus a promise to keep it short and to the point. Add to that some occasional pokes at the inevitable peccadilloes of the profession, and you have the makings of a pleasant-spirited and interesting book. For example, in reference to the “contrariety of tax and financial accounting,” King reminds us that Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, best known for writing the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, held in 1979 that financial accounting should be biased in favor of understating assets, as its primary goal is to provide useful information to investors; but tax accounting should aim to protect the public treasury and improve the amount of taxes collected.

With his solid credentials—a CPA, CMA and Harvard MBA, as well as the current treasurer of Progressive Insurance—King proves himself to be the insider, the historian, the yenta of the accounting profession. More Than a Numbers Game offers enough insights to give occasional pause even to those who have a real grasp of the wheres and whys behind the regulations that are dear to the heart of every practitioner.

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