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Debt: The First 5,000 Years | [David Graeber]

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

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  •  
    Praetor Israel 12-22-13
    Praetor Israel 12-22-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 11-22-13
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 11-22-13 Member Since 2009

    Acteon

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A six star book"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    What does Grover Gardner bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Gardner reads very well and has a pleasant voice.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    There are many, when suddenly new light is shed upon something seemingly familiar.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Groton, CT, United States 09-11-13
    Matthew Groton, CT, United States 09-11-13
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    "Very cynical"
    Would you try another book from David Graeber and/or Grover Gardner?

    No


    Would you ever listen to anything by David Graeber again?

    No


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Gatineau, Quebec, Canada 05-15-13
    Matthew Gatineau, Quebec, Canada 05-15-13 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Could be shorter"
    What did you love best about Debt?

    Lots of great info, but some chapters take forever to get through...


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    A much better understanding of what money actually is.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott United States 05-09-13
    Scott United States 05-09-13 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Intriguing View on the Myths of Our Generation"

    Debt is a magnificent intellectual history of debt. It clearly disassociates many of the myths common in society about the nature and history of debt. Challenging the predominate default view of capitalism, Graeber provides many good examples of how the state, capitalism, war, and money have interwoven over time to produce modern problems in society. While the book was well sourced and convincing, the author did occasionally dip into political issues, even specific individuals, with really no apparent relation to the core content. Absent this, the book would have received an easy 5 out of 5.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ben BELLINGHAM, WA, United States 04-27-13
    Ben BELLINGHAM, WA, United States 04-27-13 Member Since 2005

    Ben ji

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Who knew debt could be so interesting"
    What made the experience of listening to Debt the most enjoyable?

    While I am all too familiar with the experience of being in debt, I had no idea that the history of debt was so rich and varied. He presented the concept of debt and then showed how it changed over time while both reflecting and influencing politics, the military, and social order.

    This is one of those books that will change the way you view history. There are wonderful insights here and an immense span of history is presented with clarity and humor.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Debt?

    I particularly enjoyed learning about the way cultures have gone back and forth between systems that relied on barter and coinage. There is a fascinating relationship between slavery, mining, and a financial system that relied on coins. Brilliant.


    What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

    Very steady and listenable. Just the right presentation.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    That the middle ages were more diverse than I expected and that they were a factor in India as well.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a long book, but the thoroughness with which the author presents his subject is wonderful. It never gets tedious and every chapter presents something new that I had never considered before. Well worth the time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric Hartford, WI, United States 02-23-13
    Eric Hartford, WI, United States 02-23-13 Member Since 2003
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    "A communist manifesto"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    The book tries to link communism with family and capitalism with greed. However he does correctly show that in the past mixing the two systems leads to violence. He fails to recognize that loving bond are essential to communism. for in it the strong must choose to give to the weak. Outside of the family this wouldn't happen due to the 150 rule in sociology, but through force, coercion and violence. Which he describes showing examples in history of our struggle to build a fair capitalist society build on choice. Altho the book intent seemed to be to show the need to ban debtors prisons and a call for bankruptcy for poor nations which I do agree with. This is how a healthy capitalist system runs.

    In my view understand that communism is for families and friends whereas capitalism is for strangers and nations. Swapping or mixing these systems can lead to emotional and sometimes violent unintended consequences.


    Has Debt turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No every opinion needs to be hear but also refuted.


    What three words best describe Grover Gardner’s performance?

    adequate.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    no


    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jakub Gdynia, Poland 10-29-12
    Jakub Gdynia, Poland 10-29-12
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    "Enlightening but vague"
    What did you love best about Debt?

    That it focuses on very broad range of time and space.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    THat every interaction has some form of debt inside if you dig deep enough.The least entertaining parts was sometimes too much details about customs in some cultures.


    Which character – as performed by Grover Gardner – was your favorite?

    THE NARRATOR :D


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Anthropology is much more interesting than i thought.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Rose Elgin, IL USA 03-28-12
    C. Rose Elgin, IL USA 03-28-12 Member Since 2007

    Gadget Geek

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fix needed"

    Errors in editing. Ex Part 2 chapter 7. Good book a performance otherwise. Interesting analysis, history, and examples.

    4 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jay Pelham, MA, United States 09-26-13
    Jay Pelham, MA, United States 09-26-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Great and important book"
    What did you love best about Debt?

    First off I loved the book, it is a very thoughtful, well researched takedown of the fantasies we have been thought in classical economics. The funnest thing about this book for me has been the laughter I get from my daughter every time I mention to her that she should read... Debt... The first 5,000 years. Ha ha h ah ha ayah aha a ahahahhahahahaha.

    I will keep trying


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
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