Bonds were key to the South Sea Company’s scheme, in which they would exchange shares for government bonds. Levenson is very fluent in his descriptions of precisely how these swaps worked, in a way that is clear to those without a financial background. And of course these are the forerunners of the kind of money magic that brought us the crash of 2008. Unlike more recent ‘pump and dump’ schemes, it wasn’t intended to be a scam, or not entirely. The creators of the South Sea Company (as far as we can tell) hoped for their business to be a success — although they were skimming profits for themselves on the way.