Before there was money, there was debt....
Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems - to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There's not a shred of evidence to support it.
Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like "guilt," "sin," and "redemption") derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history - as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
©2011 David Graeber (P)2012 Gildan Media Corp
I found this book quite odd and not what I was expecting. I'm interested in debt, and the current crisis which has a lot to do with debt, and I didn't really take too seriously the subtitle about 5000 years. Mr Graeber is not kidding. 5000 years and not a penny less is what you get. From prehistorical times, through the Sumarians, a sojourn on the Euphrates (I'm afraid I didn't take notes), long meanders with African tribes. Some bits were interesting - barter never was more than a fantasy of Adam Smith - human societies have always kept tabs, and virtual money (in the form of mental or written IOUs) was probably the precursor of every money economy. Women may have become chattels only when everything else did. 5% seems to have been considered the fair rate of interest through the ages. Current rates on credit cards would have been considered immoral and usurious at almost any time in history. But what is also odd is Mr Graeber's attitude and take on things. I'm not sure where he is coming from (or what he's on). He doesn't seem to give our modern society any credit for delivering at least some peace and prosperity. He doesn't seem to accept that quite a bit of debt and credit is useful and even necessary to human development. Hmm. More puzzled than satisfied as I finish this book.
"Stands Economics on Its Head"
Graeber's "Debt" raises questions about the received wisdom of economics. When did we all become entrapped in debt and financial obligation? Why are the standards of debt different for the wealthy than for the poor? "Debt" does an amazing job of laying bare the inconsistencies and contradictions of our economic system.
Grover Gardner does a great job of conveying the emotional content of an intellectual argument. Proficient reading of non-fiction is about drawing the listener into the argument, which means understanding the argument and following the rhetorical rhythms. Gardner does an amazing job!
Debt is not a permanent condition nor is it necessarily a moral failing. With all of us in debt, this knowledge is uplifting!
I wish there were more books from the modern anthropological literature available as audio books!
"A must read for the already well informed"
The author takes the reader on a trip around the world and throughout history to examine the roll of debt in human society. From the Sumeria to Ming Dynasty China and Adam Smith this book looks at how debt shapes human relationships and how the commoditization of those contracts has broken the very human bonds we form with one another.
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the WorldNiall Ferguson (Author)
"Must read if you are interested in economy"
A very interesting angle on how debt developed, where money come from and many more. Despite many references, this is not a book on archeology. Many of author's remarks in history and discovery of ancient civilizations make the book so much more worthwhile as well as trustworthy.
great read, highly recommended
"Very hard to see a clear line of the story"
While I think this book could be interesting, and indeed I enjoyed some parts of it, I think the author fails to capture reader's attention with a clear line of events. He kind of like jumps from one epoch to another without explaining what does it all mean and how it correlates with his point of view. He also quotes a lot of sources which he then denounces, so especially while you are listening to the book, not reading it, it is hard to tell what the author actually thinks about the subject.
The overall problem with the book, I believe, is that an author is an anthropologist and he's trying to get into the field of economics. I don't mean just his reasoning, which might be flawed - this should be left for economists to judge - but the way he tells the story: he's elaborating on some of the historical/cultural things too much and you just can't see what he was trying to say in the first place. Probably the reason I couldn't really finish the book.
The narration is very good, although at some point I stumbled at a clearly "editorial" piece not supposed to be heard by the audience - the narrator was reading his remarks on the text. I guess you could call it a "bug". It was for a couple of minutes though.
You must read this book.
It's simply one of the most useful books I've ever read, and well written to boot.
"An abridged version should be better"
The book is too detailed, thus too long. The author should resume his thesis better
I think the narrator made a very good job based on the density and details of the book
"Not a book to be read while multi-tasking"
This book gave me a new perspective of how to see the value of money. To think that our dollar doesn't have the value (what backs it up) was mind blowing for me.
"We Have Learded Little In Our Time"
What an eye opener. We apparently reside within an historical cycle cash and credit with all it's benefits and injuries.
The conversation on what Money is is fascinating..
The narrator does a fantastic job.
This book is an essential part in broadening your understanding of the historical world and why the international community finds itself in the throws of a financial system it cannot fully understand or control.
"Truly thought provoking"
A fresh look at the history of money, credit, and the economy in general. The author questions many of the commonly-held assumption about the nature, and the very existence of "the market", and raises fascinating questions. Some of the issues he discusses are so basic to our thinking, that we rarely think of questioning them. One such point is "one should pay his debts" - but why, exactly? Shouldn't the lender carry some risk, if the debtor fails? What came first, money or credit? Was money really invented to replace systems of barter?
This was truly one of most thought provoking works I've read or listened to in a long time, and I fully recommend it.
"A six star book"
I cannot recommend it too strongly to anyone who wants to understand human history and the way society functions. This is a book of extraordinary richness, depth, breadth and originality that puts the world and the histories of human society into a new perspective and thereby stimulates us to rethink much of what we think we know. It is a great joy to find such a book.
Gardner reads very well and has a pleasant voice.
There are many, when suddenly new light is shed upon something seemingly familiar.
It is probably appealing only to those with intellectual interests who seek more than entertainment. To me, it is a truly great work that makes one reflect and re-think.
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