Software engineer and avid, lifetime student. I like deep, thoughtful non-fiction, and fiction that compliments and enriches it.
I'm only at chapter 5 so this review is arguably premature. But I've read a ton of this type of nonfiction book to see that this book - this author - are special. And what makes it so important is that the content is possibly the biggest, most important economic, social, and political web of ideas anyone can possibly tackle - and these ideas have never been more relevant to current events and within the power of the common person to influence since the crucial invention of the printing press.
Read this book. If you are even a reasonably thoughtful person, it will have taught you something profound - even life-changing - in just the first 4 chapters.
What's it about? It's hard to say because, as is explained, the concept of debt pervades every aspect of being human - from morality (behavior), to economics (earning a living), to sociology (relationships). The concept of debt has come to pervade almost every aspect of our lives - even our religion. Politically, we are stuck as never before as we grapple with the concepts behind socialism and capitalism. But if your friend asks you to "Pass the salt, please," at dinner, you will not quote a price to your friend to perform this "act of production." So are you a socialist? Probably not. If your friend borrows $1000 from you, you are unlikely to be happy about not being paid back, especially if the friend uses the money to do things you would have liked to do, but now can not. Does your friend have a moral requirement to pay you back? Even to the point of a "pound of flesh?" Or was your loan more like a risky bet that now will not provide a return on your investment? An act of generosity? A keystone of functioning societies? Something that earns you rewards in heaven?
Using a discussion that spans the Vedas to Nehemiah and Christ, Adam Smith to Keynes, Comte to Nietzsche to Durkheim, from tribes to modern societies, be prepared to be stunned with new insights.
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
Say something about yourself!
You must read this book.
It's simply one of the most useful books I've ever read, and well written to boot.
Disappointment. I thought the book would be considerable more academic and fact based. Instead is seemed to be a tirade, against the World Monetary Fund, Globalization. While the author seems well informed about the facts in the book, I noticed several basic factual errors. That combined with the authors obvious cynicism, and a healthy dose conspiracy theory made it difficult to take seriously.
I think the only people who will take the book seriously, and not realize how far fetched it is are people who already have a similar cynical view and WANT to believe this kind of stuff.
I thought that this would be a run of the mill history focusing on actual history and not an ideological work. Michael Moore on the left and Bill O'Reilly on the right would be hard pressed to have more vitriol and indignation drip from the pages. From two minutes in I realized that that this was no history. The author has an ideological ax to grind and not a story to tell.
First the good. He did have a lot to say about money and credit systems that I had no idea existed. "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson (a book mentioned in an unfavorable light in this work and referenced later in this review) made it sound like complex credit systems did not spring up until the rise of the Italian city states. Graeber makes clear this was not the case talked about very intricate and reasonably interesting histories of money from China to India to Mesopotamia and Europe. I learned a lot there.
He also had some interesting points about debt not necessarily having to be paid back and that some debt should be defaulted on. Writing this in 2015 I would wholeheartedly agree. I believe Greece, for example, should default on every last penny it owes its creditors and start over, leaving the Euro behind. They won't be able to borrow again for a while, but that's probably best for everyone. He also had some unkind words about the IMF, an institution that I have very little respect for.
However, things really went off the rails in so many places it is hard to know where to start. Given some of the wild claims made any actual history and other various claims are suspect because of the absurdity of such assertions. If an author makes a wild claim on page one how do you know to trust the words on page two? I will limit myself to only a couple of examples, but there are many more than I reference here.
First off, Graeber completely discounts the barter system as presented in most economic textbooks, saying there is no recorded history to support them. Instead he claims that markets arose because governments set them up to make feeding and provisioning armies easier. He says the barter system is and always has been a myth and that is a lot of what is arguments are based on. But this leaves huge questions unanswered. For example, there was a lot of time before recorded history and before large armies needed to be provisioned. What happened then? In the days 12,000 years ago when humans started to farm the fertile crescent, what happened then? What about before then? Certainly one stranger would occasionally meet up with another stranger and trade. Without currency and without credit or currency how could this have been done? Through clumsy barter. He talks about credit forming in small communities where one individual would supply something and his neighbors would take take it to be able to give something back later. Fine. But in the earliest instances of strangers trading barter must surely have been used. I he fails to address this and his "credit in the community" answer simply leaves far too many unanswered questions to me to take him seriously. And as I said, a very large number of his arguments rest of this assumption.
Next, towards the end, he talks about how awful life on earth is now and how capitalism is so exclusionary for so many people. Life is not only bad for those living in third world counties, but also for those in the developed world as incomes are stagnant in all developed nations. However, this simply is not true. Literally billions of people have been lifted out of poverty since 1980. While the world's population has doubled the number of people in absolute poverty has actually fallen in absolute terms and in relative terms there is no point in human history where absolute poverty has been so low. As for income stagnation, he is correct that some counties are experiencing this, specifically the United States. As a Canadian, however, I do not see that and statistics back me up. There was even a recent New York Times article that claimed that the average Canadian was richer than their American counterpart for the first time ever because median wages here are rising and have been for over two decades. I was simply shocked that he would make such ridiculous claims. Just simply not true.
Finally, at the very end when talking about alternative economic systems and critiquing the Ascent of Money as referenced before, he quotes Ferguson when he says that banking systems transfer wealth from the idle rich to the industrious poor. Graeber then makes the bizarre leap that this must mean that Ferguson doesn't talk about the idel poor and must want them to rot in hell. This is most certainly not what Ferguson was saying, but Graeber does this constantly, so at this point it was not surprise that he would read all kinds of things into a work he does not like. Even more than that however, he seems to want people in general to work less and still somehow be able to pay for beer, food, clothing, gifts to family and friends, weddings, and funerals. I have no problem with people working less, but then they will have to live on less. You don't need Bastille Day for that. You don't have to uproot the entire economic order for people to work less. I personally know a few people who work less (25-30 hours a week or so) and have a lower income as a result. More power to them. Graeber doesn't see that as freedom, I guess, and would rather, like most radicals, see everyone conform to their view of the world, consequences be damned.
great as an audio book too. have a listen, enjoy the ride. peace out dudes
I only really enjoyed the first and last chapters, it gets at what I was hoping the book to be. I can understand other reviewer's frustrations of it being very rant-like and including a hell of a lot of tribal examples. I had to take a star off for the author's very superficial interpretation of scripture.
Loved David's sweeping, well researched account of the human evolution of debt. Will definitely reference this often in future conversations.
Love love love what I learned from this book. If you're at all interested in anthropology and have an interest in learning more about our current economic system from a historic, policy and cultural perspective, it's a definite must-read. It gets a bit hard to follow along as he delves into a lot of topics easier read and digested in writing, but even just half-paying attention you'll pick up a ton of fascinating tidbits and crazy, weird and funny stories!
It was a book about one person's notion that people should live without money and without debt -- we should all share what we have.
He used short anecdotes to support big ideas. Big ideas need a lot of data and many studies, especially when the big ideas are to forgive all debt and for everyone and eliminate the notion of money.
Consistent, pleasent, strong.
If you’re looking for that rare book about economics written by an anthropologist, then this book is for you. The author seems amused by all the major economists both past and present. His conclusion after 17 hours: forgive all debt for everyone and drop the foolish notion of money.