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Debt: The First 5,000 Years by [Graeber, David]
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Length: 544 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for David Graeber

“I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world.”
—Maurice Bloch, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics

“A scholar whose books and articles are used in college classrooms around the world and an anarchist who is a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World.”
—The New York Times
 
“He’s a public intellectual. He speaks out. He participates. He’s not someone who simply does good scholarship; he’s an activist and a controversial person.”
—Stanley Aronowitz 
 
“If anthropology consists of making the apparently wild thought of others logically compelling in their own cultural settings and intellectually revealing of the human condition, then David Graeber is the consummate anthropologist. Not only does he accomplish this profound feat, he redoubles it by the critical task—now more urgent than ever—of making the possibilities of other people’s worlds the basis for understanding our own.”
—Marshall Sahlins, University of Chicago


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

David Graeber teaches anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has written for Harper’s, The Nation, Mute, and The New Left Review. In 2006, he delivered the Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics, an annual talk that honors “outstanding anthropologists who have fundamentally shaped the study of culture.” One of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street, Graeber has been called an “anti-leader of the movement” by Bloomberg Businessweek. The Atlantic wrote that he “has come to represent the Occupy Wall Street message...expressing the group’s theory, and its founding principles, in a way that truly elucidated some of the things people have questioned about it.”

Product Details

  • File Size: 4157 KB
  • Print Length: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (July 12, 2011)
  • Publication Date: July 12, 2011
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00513DGIO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,874 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hans G. Despain on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting and important book. Graeber's writing style is engaging and provocative, enjoyable and fascinating.

Graeber has been accused as being overly political in his interpretation of history and anthropology. There is a warrant of truth to this accusation, but Graeber is dealing with highly political, and deeply moral, dilemmas which dominant history and have implications for contemporary circumstances, an apolitical book would be impossible (many philosophers of science (right and left), including myself, reject Hume's Law or the radical distinction between facts and values, really that is all Graeber has done).

At the same time Graeber is conducting anthropological science at its best and scholarship that is interesting to all human beings concerned with the distributional inequalities within the United States and between nations.

Below I attempt to divide the book into six major theses, in so doing it can be seen that the first five theses are historical and scientific, only the last is political. In other words, the politics and science can be logically separated.

Given Graeber politics should non-leftists read this book, Yes! Graeber's book is destined to become a classic text. Graeber has the spirit of F. A. Hayek, not politically, but rhetorically. Hayek's <<The Road to Serfdom>> (1944), is a highly political book (from the right) but with a very important major thesis, namely if the (philosophical) <<ends>> of intervention cannot be agreed upon, predatory politics will be the manifestation. Hayek's economics are impeccable, his social theory intriguing, his analysis of politics second to none, and his understanding of history impressive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As most of the other reviewers have noted, this is a brilliant and revolutionary book. The author has synthesized a great deal of information from anthropology, history and economics over 5,000 years to come up with a compelling and original account of debt. The accomplishment is even greater, because he makes clear that debt is intimately related to money, capitalism, war and slavery; so understanding debt will change your view of all these things.

The bad news is the author made some inexplicable choices that may cause many readers to discount or misunderstand the book. The first is to continually emphasize abusive practices associated with debt: predatory or fraudulent lending, debt for consumption, debtors' prison and enslavement for debt. Only on the edges of the story, usually under the term "commercial debt," will you see what a debt defender would emphasize: informed and non-desperate parties agreeing voluntarily to a contract in which the lender supplies funds to buy assets expected to return more than the interest rate on the debt, and agrees that if the venture fails she will own the remaining assets but have no personal recourse against the borrower. If the venture succeeds, the lender gets repaid with interest and the borrower gets any additional profit as compensation for his efforts. If the venture fails, the lender takes a loss (or at least gets a lower rate of return than would compensate for the risk) and the borrower has nothing to show for his work. No courts, no violence.

Someone might argue that the violent practices are inherent to debt and abusive loans are far more common than loans of mutual advantage. But the author doesn't argue this. Anyway, the points would be irrelevant to his thesis.
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Format: Paperback
I've been interested in economics for many years. This book is simultaneously the most compelling and most clearly written book on an economic subject that I've read in all that time.

Most of us learn one thing in history books, about why money exists and what it's for - so people can trade. Graeber goes into the actual historical and anthropological roots of money, and shows us the entirely different reality: money exists to track debt. It can then also be *useful* for trade among equals - but that is not it's primary purpose, and never was.

And from this single bit of clarity, so many other parts of our civilization are revealed.

I personally suspect that many of the negative reviewers are responding because they don't like how strong a case Graeber makes. For example, I saw one reviewer complaining along the lines that "this is not news to serious economists". Perhaps not - but it is news to most of the public, including those who run our markets, corporations and governments. I saw another reviewer state he didn't like the book because "90% of it comes from other authors". Having read the same book, the closest I noticed to this is that Graeber heavily backs his contentions with citations, and cites the experts he deals with by name, whether either agreeing or disagreeing.

In any case, I am happy to recommend this book for anyone who uses money.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prof. Graeber is obviously an extremely competent anthropologist, and this well referenced book (with an over forty page bibliography!) contains some very plausible propositions. One is that credit systems emerged before barter and money, and that the state or other authorities with a monopoly on violence instated currency from the top down. Another is that our modern fiat money system is built on nothing more than trust, unreflective of any fundamentals whatsoever (although this is obvious to anyone who has studied our modern financial system, and is noted in many of the textbooks Prof. Graeber likes to slight). Unfortunately, apart from these two ideas, this book is disorganized, sloppily written and lacks an overarching thesis to tie its chapters together. One theme Prof. Graeber seeks to return to again and again is that our language of morality is shrouded in words we also use to describe financial transactions, but this rather simple observation is drowned in anthropological anecdotes and a rather long winded explication of Bruno Tharet's bizzare "primordial debt theory", both of which tend to obfuscate rather than clarify the matter at hand. His investigation of different modes of economic relations, which he titles communistic, exchange, and hierarchical strikes me as clumsily composed and derivative-there have been many challenges to the rational actor model of economic decision making (by Amartya Sen, Robert Frank etc) that Graeber both fails to mention and which are much more illuminating to the interested reader. His final chapter is particularly odd.Read more ›
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