Powers Beyond Number

How humankind has kept its books

6041-Mihm

Tim Foley for The Chronicle Review

Until recently, accountants have suffered from reputations as bean counters, wet blankets, and dull, passionless drones. Whether poring over a ledger with green eyeshades or hunched in front of a computer screen, bookkeepers have played the straight man in the tragicomedy of capitalism, offering a foil to the more irrational, absurd, and innovative personalities of modern economic life.

But in recent years, as the phrase "creative accounting" moved from a