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

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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!.
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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: #291,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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litcrit) turn has made many outside of anthropology question its relevance to larger issues (or to believe it had been superseded by literary "Cultural Studies" departments, Graeber has made a case for a sophisticated, relevant and engaged anthropology that doesn't simply limit itself in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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33 of 35 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SWR on December 19, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like most of Graeber's work, this is another fantastic book and is a great contribution to social theory and understandings of value.
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This book covers a great deal of theory of importance to a book I am currently writing. The work integrates philosophy, economics, and anthropology similar to what I am trying to do for a particular society. To that extent, it has been very helpful. It covers the substantive and formalist arguments but does not stop there. I found this book an excellent addition to understand how value results in western and non-western societies.
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