Book Review: Accounting – A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Nobes

Accounting: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Accounting: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Nobes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have often wondered what the difference between accounting and book-keeping is. As a ‘sole trader’ both as teacher and, in latter years, as writer I tread the thin line between just needing to keep accurate accounts for the taxman and needing an accountant to do the job for me.

In the past, I’ve always assumed that the common wisdom that ‘an accountant should save you more money that it costs to employ him’ was simply because he/she would know more about the law of taxation and be better able to do the math. What then, is the role of a book-keeper? You can spend years (and a lot of money) doing either book-keeping or accountancy courses so it seems both ought to require a great deal knowledge of maths and law, surely?

Christopher Nobes book gives the answer to this in one simple way: accountancy is fiction.

I am possibly overstating the issue here but I’ll stand by it in the sense that Nobes lays clear the nature of the murky waters of the accountancy world. The book-keeper, it seems, just has the job of putting down the ins and outs of a business and making sure everything is properly receipted and documented. The accountant, by contrast, makes decisions about the nature of these things; is something a profit? A commodity? An expense? An investment? The larger the company, the more complex and ‘fudgey’ the decisions will be. Then comes the aspect of budget control and assessments to predict the future. Here the skill of the accountant can make or break a company as their records and evaluations dictate how department budgets will be spent and how a company is thought to be progressing. There are often multiple ways the same figures can be interpreted and used.

Nobes is quite open about the subjective nature of all this – as he is about the question mark of who is watching those paid to do the watching. As the biggest companies go to ‘the big four’ and accountants in these firms can spend their entire careers working full-time for a client company doing their accountants, it is inevitable that loyalties are formed, conflict of interests occur and, perhaps, market crashes take place…?

My criticism in all this is that Nobes goes into quite technical detail quite fast and leaves one a little bewildered at times and, frankly, a bit bored. I’m not sure if there is a better way of writing this kind of stuff (I’m not an accountant after all, but maybe that’s the point) but for an ‘Introduction’ one might assume that the material covered will be more clearly explained and perhaps a little more entertainingly too. After all, it’s not meant to be a book warding people away from foolish notions of careers in accountancy! It’s meant to inform, challenge and perhaps even encourage – or at least I would think so.

For me, I have my answers now: I have no interest in accountancy. Book-keeping will be useful and it sticks with hard facts of numbers; I can cope with that. That’s my route and I am happy that Christopher Nobes gave me that, at least.

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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at


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