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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams Paperback – November, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; First Edition edition (November 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312240457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312240455
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Graeber teaches anthropology at Yale University. He is currently writing an ethnography of direct action as well as working with the Direct Action Network, People's Global Action, and Ya Basta!.

Customer Reviews

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It's about really important stuff, the stuff that makes life both possible and meaningful.
Donald Braman
Like most of Graeber's work, this is another fantastic book and is a great contribution to social theory and understandings of value.
SWR
Since my first reading I have read through additional texts like Mauss's The Gift, and Malinowski's Argonauts Of The West Pacific.
Niklas Anderson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
Graeber's book is not only a welcome addition to the anthropological literature on value; his work also goes well beyond simple exposition of Durkheim, Mauss, Marx and Malinowski and does what most authors should: make this book not only relevant to a wide variety of concerns but propose a theory that can lead you to change your view of the world if you take it seriously. Reading this book brought me to look at further works by Caille, Godbout and others working with the aptly named and little known MAUSS group in France; Graeber's book has been not only good to read, but good to think.
The one serious criticism I have (hence 4, not 5 stars, I would give 4.5+ if I could) is that Graeber needs an editor; not to clean up typos but to clarify his style. He keeps almost everything he writes tentative by qualifying everything in a conversational and hesitant style. Hesitation is not the same as prudence! This detracts so seriously from the real pleasure I gained from reading the book that I considered giving up before the end; if this book had been written with more attention to those issues of style, I would have stayed up all night to finish reading it the first day I received it.
Written at a time when the so-called "linguistic" (i.e. litcrit) turn has made many outside of anthropology question its relevance to larger issues (or to believe it had been superseded by literary "Cultural Studies" departments, Graeber has made a case for a sophisticated, relevant and engaged anthropology that doesn't simply limit itself in area studies or make itself irrelevant to contemporaneous worlds in a misguided positivism; his book keeps open the very human questions of value and action in our historically contingent and yet imagined worlds.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Donald Braman on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Value, reciprocity, and exchange are making a big comeback and deservedly so. Graeber's book is a fascinating trip through the literature (both the good and the bad) with his own persuasive and original theory thrown in to boot. Graeber deserves thanks for the former and does it one better with the latter.
You should be forewarned, though, Graeber is . . . an anthropologist! I know, I can hear you saying: "No! Surely they all died of self-reflection during the postmodern plagues! Are there really any still alive?" One of Graeber's great accomplishments is that he actually understands and can talk about in plain language - even with flair and humor - the important theoretical issues that others have attacked and obscured using indecipherable jargon and nonsense verse.
More suprising still, he makes topics that drive most people to tears of boredom seem not only interesting, but relevant. If you've no idea what a potlatch is or what the kula is all about, Graeber tells you not only how they work, but why you should care.
Most importantly, then, this is not just a nice book of theory & it's not just a pleasure to read. It's about really important stuff, the stuff that makes life both possible and meaningful. If you want depth and breadth of analysis about how social life shapes meaning and quality of life, forget Putnam and social capital; this is a far deeper and more important work. This is anthropology as it should be: rich, lucid, and open to all comers.
Highly recommended.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert L. Clark on January 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Graeber is extremely erudite but never overbearing. His logic is complex, impeccable, and totalizing. And he has with easy grace wrung new meanings and infused new life into classic anthropological cases and works that hitherto have existed simply to torment fledgeling social science graduate students taking courses on veteran scholars like Mauss, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber.
What he is suggesting massively changes the way we look at cultural systems of value, exchange, and meaning. These ideas (and perhaps the author's politics) are revolutionary, yet you cannot come away from a reading (or re-reading--be prepared to take some time with this in order to understand all of the issues at stake) of this book without feeling that it all makes perfect sense.
If you are ready to read an academic book that really challenges the way you look at the economy you are part of, this may be the one for you.
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Format: Paperback
This book didn't impress me when I first read it. Most of what Graeber had to say was lost to me, but it was not because of Graeber, but because I lacked any real context or education for this book. Since my first reading I have read through additional texts like Mauss's The Gift, and Malinowski's Argonauts Of The West Pacific. Now, reading through Graeber's text with some more background, I realize how moving and fascinating this text is. It's dense, and nearly every page has a dozen points that are just as striking as anything that came before. His attempt to further synthesize Marx and Mauss and their understanding of how humans find meaning is clear and appropiate (Graeber moves to exempt all jargon that are typical of Marxists, and is admirably clear and concise about his word choice and examples).

This text should be read, but it must be read with some context. I recommend at least reading the two previous books I mentioned, since the are mentioned frequently by Graeber, and are influential for many other texts that Graeber cites. Graeber does attempt to summarize the arguments of these texts, and actually does it quite well, but it is often difficult to progress with Graeber's arguments unless if one is more intimately familiar with the originals.

This book is a well cited and moving text, and the only complaints I have are the frequent typos and the fact that all the notes are in the back of the book. On one hand, reading the notes requires you to constantly flip your page to the back, but they are also substantial enough that if they were included in the original page there wouldn't be much room for the original text. Some of the notes seem like they shouldn't separated, but should simply have been written into the original pages.
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