An extraordinary read. I had never really gotten into economics partly because I didn’t have a good entry point—the one college economics class I tookAn extraordinary read. I had never really gotten into economics partly because I didn’t have a good entry point—the one college economics class I took was quite dry. This book was the perfect antidote: outrageously engaging while explaining in great detail the foundations of our systems of exchange throughout history.
After having discussed with a colleague how the IMF forces countries to repay debts at the expense of the livelihood of their constituents, Graeber starts the book with the question: “Do we need to pay back our debts?” He then moves throughout history, from ancient societies to today, to try and answer this question by showing how debt has always been a critical component of human societies but has been treated quite differently in different times and spaces. Graeber approaches the issue from all sides: moral, philosophical, political, historical, cultural, geographical, linguistic—you name it. Yet for all his intellectualism and his grappling with complex issues, he always writes in very clear, exciting prose, without jargon. Every chapter explains some mysterious historical phenomenon through thought-provoking questions and fascinating stories. Since Graeber is an anthropologist, there were a number of stories from various tribes that lie outside the typical historical reference point. But he culls ideas and examples from all places: Nietzche, medieval Islamic jokes, ancient Roman ledgers, 20th century cultural theorists—the man has read everything! (the bibliography is nearly forty-9pointfont-pages!)
I will point out that Graeber is not a fan of modern Capitalism in the sense of Capitalism as a system that demands endless growth. He is not, however, anti-market and takes great pains to show us alternate systems of exchange beyond the capitalist-socialist binary that have existed throughout history and have been wiped from our contemporary imaginations (for example, medieval Islam was a cashless society without usury that relied on trust and reputation rather than financial manipulation). At a time when people can sometimes feel hopeless in their inability to change a system that is destroying much of what people have come to love and hold dear, Graeber, through his profound and thought-provoking history, may not provide any easy solutions, but he at least gives us the intellectual breathing room to ponder possibilities for the future. ...more
Wow. This may be one of the best novels I have ever read. Which, of course, means that I was quite moved by this book. Which also means that I relatedWow. This may be one of the best novels I have ever read. Which, of course, means that I was quite moved by this book. Which also means that I related to it. The vividness with which Carr depicts this idyllic landscape--the freshness, the strangeness, the intoxicating nature of discovering a new you in a new place--called forth so many memories of great, great joy from my own life. And the sorrow of lost love and missed opportunities that this book also magnificently realizes? Well, I can relate to that, as well, as I’m sure many, many people can. Everything just rang so true, every detail lovingly crafted from a lifetime of experience. A simple, beautiful, perfect novel....more