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Publisher's Summary

Now in audio, the updated and expanded edition: David Graeber's "fresh...fascinating...thought-provoking...and exceedingly timely" (Financial Times) history of debt.

Here, anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: He shows that before there was money, there was debt. 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.

©2014 David Graeber (P)2015 Gildan Media LLC

Critic Reviews

"Controversial and thought-provoking, an excellent book." (Booklist)

What members say

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Transformative to the point of being revolutionary

What did you love best about Debt - Updated and Expanded?

As we grow up, even before we study economics as a formal discipline, we're given a series of "truths" about human interaction - first and foremost the depiction of a world without money as a barter economy, as well as the "natural" human inclination to act for self-advantage, and these serve as the baseline for our reasoning. Thus, reasonable people applying their intellects to questions of human interaction and morality reach conclusions that can be supported by the underlying assumptions.

What David Graeber shows us in "Debt" is that virtually every such assumption is actually incorrect, either outright wrong or misinterpreted as a matter of historical record, so that all of our later reasoning is upended.

What did you like best about this story?

Before going back thousands of years to begin his unveiling, the author presents us with a scene from a cocktail party where he interacts with several people - one of them a banker, another working with a non-governmental organization. It's immediately clear from this interaction just how transformative Graeber's perspective is.

That Graeber is himself "on the left" is well-known - he self-identifies as an anarchist, and is considered to be one of the figures at the center of the early Occupy movement (see another of his books, "The Democracy Project," for details on this) - but this opening scene reveals even before anything else is discussed how the people we regard as "liberal" are really part of the same worldview as those we call "conservative," and that challenging the underlying assumptions is no more welcomed by one than the other.

What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

Gardner is an excellent narrator, and his tone is just right for the subject matter.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but coming in at nearly 18 hours, that's simply not possible. "Debt" is best listened to in substantial chunks, such as while commuting from place to place; I listened to it on the train, in the car, and while walking. There's a lot here, and it takes time to think about it and absorb the implications.

Any additional comments?

Some people post reviews calling this book "biased." There are certainly some value judgments made by the author, but what most such reviews really seem to be doing is taking issue with the audacity that an anthropologist would present an historical record - well supported by research, mind you - that shows the conventional wisdom on which our current economic thinking is based are all wrong. The negative reviews most often come down to incredulity that someone would dare to tell us that something "everyone" knows to be true (because we were told it was true) could actually be false.

What makes this so amusing is that the people writing such reviews, angry that their worldviews might be so completely wrong and unable to countenance such an idea on an intellectual level, rail that Graeber is "promoting his ideology," even though they're the ones left flailing around defending something whose bases have just been discredited.

You'll get nothing from this book is your intent is to get nothing. If you respond to being presented with very detailed, clearly valid interwoven evidence that much of the world's history just isn't the way that you imagine by saying "Well heck, what does he know?", then your view isn't going to be transformed, because you're taking your current economic beliefs - for whatever reason - purely on faith.

For those of us who studied economics and accepted its premises on faith but built our later understanding on reason from that starting point, reading "Debt" is a really disruptive experience that calls into question almost everything we think and know. It's a great read the first time and better the second.

45 of 52 people found this review helpful

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Amazing description of debt history

I will qualify I am not a supporter of his protests or really ideals; however I thought this book was extremely well done with an objective perspective that made it a wonderful history lesson.

An excellent perspective on human history and the role debt played. Highly recommend, very easy to listen to and understand.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Great insights but theme is hard to follow

The beginning and end of the book are absolutely riveting. They present a highly original reexamination of fundamental economic, social and moral tenets that calls into question many near universal assumptions about human relationships and political organizations.

However the long middle of the book is an academic treatise on several historical societies. I'm sure the author has a clear vision of how these meandering surprises connect to the core theme of debt, but I found myself frequently unable to see their relevance. So that part of the book was a tedious slog for me.

I am going to try rereading it without the middle chapters to see if I can gain a better understanding of the main arguments of how debt relates to violence and social organization. I think there is an important message here.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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This book peeled my eyes open.

This is one of those rare A+ books. Dense with information and history, it shattered much of what I had thought about money, motivation, and mandkind as a whole. As a former scientist, I was astounded by how many my views of society and culture shifted as the result of reading this book. Truly eye opening.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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The most important book I've probably ever read

this book represents the truth we all need to know we all need to share and we all need to act on now

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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HOLY SHIT

Holy Shit is the only thing I can feel when I listened to the book.
I used to take the structure of our economic system for granted and imagined it to exist since forever long ago and is going to exist forever long after.
Apparently that is not true.
Maybe some of the arguments in the book are so provoking I don't think I have enough background knowledge to neither agree nor disagree, but being provided a fresh new critical eye on the issues at hand is always good.

This a book that challenges capitalism. It is not a passive history book about Debt. It is an argument that carries a punch.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Engaging & Thought provoking

Well worth the price. I see the examples Graeber set out all over our world. Gardener gives a great performance.

A little academic at times but seriously worth it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very educational!

WOW! what an amazing book! highly recommend! So much to learn! Definitely need to hear this again. So much good information!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Required Reading for Living in 2016 Onward

All of this within is important regardless if you agree with it or not. It gives you a key thing that is often hard to find: Perspective.

While some may dislike the length of the book, it is it's very length that gives it enough room for impact.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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I'm forever indebted to this book...

... and its author. The book is a great insight into the history of $$.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • John Hodgson
  • 05-29-17

Looking for economic and social clarity?

This is an extremely detailed account of our economic and social institutions over the centuries. If you've ever wondered what the alternative is to the 'market paradigm' is, then you should read this

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-08-17

Remarkably insightful

This is an extraordinary piece of work in terms of its depth and it's audacity in challenging currently held beliefs. I was positively thrilled by the panoramic scale of the book drawing on religion, morality, economics and sociology to provide a tour de force. This is the exact opposite of a boring book about money. A book that introduces the term Militaristic Capitalism and explains the relationship between concubines and interest is highly recommended by me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 05-19-16

Great book!

Great book, quite long & requires alot of attention but good valuable information! worth a listen (will have tp listen t it again! !)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. T. P. Bedingfield
  • 07-14-17

Excellent! A very thought provoking book

Really made me think about debt and obligations. Will go on to read more on the subject.

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  • Longshot356
  • 02-13-16

A Gigantic, Frustrating, Maddening Disappointment.

Don't be deceived. This book is essentially about capitalism. Now, most people have one of three views re capitalism - they think it works, they think its evil or they don't think about it at all. A few, like me, are agnostic and study it to form a firmer opinion. Graeber has been described as the intellectual centre of the "anti-globalisation" movement so I thought...

"Great. This is the book that will explain to me the rationale behind the movement"

If this is it's intellectual underpinning the movement is in big trouble.

Graeber starts by stating he aims to answer the question "Why do people consider it a moral duty to pay ones debts?" I was intrigued. The problem is he never does answer it. Instead he gives us a very selective history of money, all the while clearly attempting to form some kind of thesis to explain why all debt is in fact a form of violent slavery (yes, seriously) - which never really comes together at all.

Sure he heads in the "progressive" directions you'd expect but never really justifies his arguments or opinions. Instead what he does, over and over, is to say something like "the most likely explanation is..." He then gives us his favoured view without explaining what the alternatives are, let alone why they're "less likely". You don't notice this technique at first but once you heard it in five or six different variations it becomes both obvious and frustrating.

Then after hours and hours and hours of this, when you get to the final chapter and are hoping, beyond hope, for him to somehow pull everything together again you're disappointed. The final chapter is what I can only describe as a rant - in which he makes self-contradictory, unsupported statements of why capitalism in general and the US in particular is both evil and bound to fail. If it wasn't so frustrating it would be laughable. Honestly it comes across more as the raving of a conspiracy theorist than a respectable academic.

I wanted to hear a cogent, reasoned exposition of the "anti-globalisation" movements position. Instead I got a subjective, emotive tract with enough holes in it's argument that it would make a decent colander.

If you're already an anti-capitalist activist buy this book - you'll be shouting "right on" until you're hoarse. Every one else - steer well clear.

11 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Gavin Morrice
  • 01-16-18

Stopped before the end

This book contains some interesting info about various cultures, at various points in history.

But the author’s narrative is misleading and revisionist.

For example, in one chapter he describes communism simply as the notion of sharing with others. In another chapter, he attempts to conflate capitalism with corruption, defining capitalism as when a merchant tries to influence governments to put limitations on the market in the capitalists favour.

For such a long and arduous book, I’d really expect more substance than this book offers.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Katie Batty
  • 03-16-16

important book

challenges so many taken for granted assumptions using lots of interesting examples - highly recommend this one!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-22-18

Unexpectedly Amazing - This book will change you

Where does Debt - Updated and Expanded rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

In my top ten books.

What other book might you compare Debt - Updated and Expanded to, and why?

Its almost a combination of "The Ascent of Money" and "Guns Germs and Steel".

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

The last 4 chapters (Part 4) where Grover provides a summary of all that he has covered and applies it to our modern world of debt.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

The Anthropological study of Debt - The foundation of Religious Principals, Governments, Wars and Humanity

Any additional comments?

Great Narrator.

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  • Jason Koch
  • 12-19-17

Great first half, let down by the second

First half is a compelling history full of anecdotes.

The second half becomes a only somewhat coherent collection of the authors ideas of what is wrong with the world and how we should change it.

Read it for the first half.

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  • Jordan
  • 10-28-16

Read it. Just do it.

Read the book. Listen to it, then read it, then give it to a friend, then read it again.