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The History of Money Hardcover – January 28, 1997

4.0 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Weatherford brings a cultural anthropologist's wide-angled perspective to this illuminating investigation of money's role in shaping human affairs. He identifies three great mutations in the story of money. The first began with the invention of coins in the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia 3000 years ago, sparking a monetary revolution that underpinned classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Next, family-owned, credit-giving banks of Renaissance Italy ushered in the modern world capitalist system, which swept away feudalism and abetted the expansion of European hegemony to the Americas. In the third major transition, predicts Weatherford (Savages and Civilization), the current age of paper money will give way to an era of cybermoney, or electronic cash, in which transactions are conducted via the Internet and by other forms of electronic transfer. Full of forgotten lore and provocative opinions (e.g., harmful inflation is identified as the dominant monetary theme of our century), and sprinkled with allusions to Voltaire, Goethe, L. Frank Baum and Gertrude Stein, this intriguing selective survey will captivate even readers with no particular yen for financial knowledge.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Anthropologist Weatherford (Savages and Civilization, LJ 12/93) has written an interesting and informative book about money, a subject often treated in a dry-as-dust technical manner. Money, according to Weatherford, has experienced three revolutions: the first, with the invention of metallic coins (gold, silver) 3000 years ago; the second, the development of paper money (now the most prevalent form of money) in Renaissance Italy; and today, on the cusp of the 21st century, the rise of electronic money (the all-purpose electronic cash card), which, he believes, will radically change the international economy. Along the way, Weatherford traces the rise of banking systems and other financial institutions and shows how national governments are playing a dominant role in managing the money supply. There is much peripheral but fascinating material in this anecdotal account. Well recommended for all readers.?Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517599805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517599808
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jack Weatherford's "The History of Money" takes an interesting take on the development of money and man's evolving relationship its various forms. The book is a very good read for the lay person but it might prove a bit trying for those who are well versed in recent economic history.
Much of the information Weatherford presents is often misrepresented. One example of his misrepresentations is the US dollar has been in constant decline versus the price of gold starting from $35 an ounce in 1971 to $400 an ounce in 1995 and that gold has maintained its purchasing power. Not so. The price of gold peaked in January, 1980 at over $850 and has been in a deflationary trend along with other commodities for about fifteen years. Its early 2002 price is now about $280-290 an ounce. In the late 1930's, an American could buy a very nice mid-size car for about twenty ounces of gold or about $700.00. Even in 1995 using the $400 price, you could barely buy the cheapest new car on the market for the same weight in gold. Weatherford bemoans Nixon's actions to cut the dollar's final link with the dollar as inflationary despite the fact that it was inflation of the late 1960's and the gold drain from the treasury to other foriegn governments that would force the break in the first place. Other problems involve the supposive large declines in prices in the 19th century, with the starting points always during periods of war and high prices and the belief that the state (wildcat) banking period was really more stable than history says, which leads one to wonder what happened during the banking panics of 1819, 1837, and 1857?
Some information Weatherford presents is just wrong.
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Format: Paperback
This is a pleasant essay - to call it a "history" is to give it more weight than it has - organized around the development of a truly transforming idea: money. And as innovations in money advanced those societies in which they arose, so this book must be a discussion of how money changed, and was changed by, the most "advanced" cultures of their time. Initially just the merchants needed something trans-national, and bars of raw gold and silver fit the bill. But it was the invention of coins, money that could be used by anyone, that started us down the path to the modern world, where all things - from pain and suffering to bushels of wheat - are commensurable in the one metric: money.
Jack Weatherford is an anthropologist, not an economist, so it is not surprising that he lingers over certain details that don't have a lot to do with his ostensible subject. Thus we are treated to the grisly spectacle of an Aztec human sacrifice, and how the Peruvian Indians who mine the silver that enriches others reconcile themselves to their poor and hazardous lives. Yet he does not stray far, and his depiction of the squeezing of the citizens of Rome for more and more taxes by successive emperors (plus their dilution of the currency) that led to the destruction of the free small-holding and business-owning classes, and with them the Empire, is chilling and instructive. The barbarians were kinder: they didn't use money.
The inventions of banking and of merchants' instruments (such as bills of exchange) are discussed, as well as the first national banks, in explaining the advent of paper money, the next great innovation.
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Format: Paperback
This is the sort of book you get when an author writes on a subject with which he has only a passing familiarity, and lacks the confidence that the subject matter is inherently interesting enough to hold the reader's attention. The result is a book that is ultimately unsatisfying.

One symptom of the problems described above is that large portions are devoted to subjects other than money. For example, the author uses the first three pages after the introduction to describe Aztec ritual sacrifice in literally gory detail before proceeding on to the use of cocao beans as commodity money. I think that's meant to be what they used to call in show business a "grabber," but for the reader expecting to learn about money, it's a distraction. Another problem is that the author's grasp of modern economics is shaky at best, and especially in the latter part of the book, he'll make a point and then repeat himself, much as an undergraduate trying to extend the length of a term paper that's run a few pages short.

And yet, there's also some interesting and oddly convincing tidbits of information here. The author states that L. Frank Baum's 1900 book "The Wizard of Oz" is really a parable about the need for a bimetallic dollar based on both gold and silver. But even as it strikes you that this is an interesting bit of trivia, you realize that it's only a bit of trivia and has little larger significance.

If you're looking for a economic history of money, you should look elsewhere. If you're interested in the cultural and sociological impact of money, this may be more to your liking, though I think it still falls short.
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