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Accounting is a very large subject. Accounting records are the earliest that we have, so accounting is as old as written history. Managers in corporations and in public sector organizations use internal accounting reports every day. Published financial reporting is done several times a year by tens of thousands of listed companies. The book of rules of International Financial Reporting Standards is over 3,600 pages long this year; and the equivalent book of US rules is much longer. So, as for all the other authors in this series, being ‘very short’ is a challenge. If my academic or professional colleagues think that I have allotted an absurdly short space to their favourite topic (or omitted it entirely), my excuse is the need for brevity. On the other hand, my colleagues (especially from the accountancy profession) might not see any point in the history which I have included. Fortunately, this book is not intended for my colleagues, but for the intelligent non-specialist. History, of course, aids understanding of the present, and it can be fascinating.

I am grateful for help in making decisions about content to Andrea Keegan and Emma Ma of Oxford University Press. I also acknowledge good suggestions for improvement from anonymous reviewers and from David Alexander (University of Birmingham), Peter Holgate (PwC), Bob Parker (University of Exeter), and Jim Rooney (University of Sydney).

Christopher Nobes

Royal Holloway (University of London) and University of Sydney

July 2013