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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams Paperback – November, 2001
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'I have not enjoyed or been so inspired by a work in anthropological theory for quite some time - I am convinced that this book is extremely important to the field of anthropology and to social theory more generally, offering alternatives to the relentlessly bleak theorizing of most post-structuralist and postmodernist critical theory - I think this book might well become a classic.' - Thomas Abercrombie, NYU
'David Graeber is probably the most exciting young anthropologist in the field today.' - Judith Friedlander, Dean of Social Sciences (Graduate Faculty), New School for Social Research
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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litcrit) turn has made many outside of anthropology question its relevance to larger issues (or to believe it had been superseded by literary "Cultural Studies" departments, Graeber has made a case for a sophisticated, relevant and engaged anthropology that doesn't simply limit itself in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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
We are all caught up in our individual view of value, it is enlightening to read of other cultures. Intellectually challenging.Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
but some will need a more patient friend to summarize the more important points. Takes resolve and patience but worth it.Published on May 4, 2013 by Amazon Customer
Needed the book for grad school. It was in good shape and easy to navigate.Published on December 30, 2009 by Shannyn
This is a book that I suspect will be assigned in many anthropology classes & derservedly so. It should (but probably won't) also be assigned in most economics classes. Read morePublished on February 22, 2002