Nigel's Reviews > Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Debt by David Graeber
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M_50x66
's review
Sep 13, 12


I surprised myself by finishing this book in under the 5000 years mentioned on the cover. The analysis was thought provoking in a philosophical kind of way; it wasn't a light read; it wasn't always a fun read; sometimes I learnt a little about history; sometimes i learnt too much (to take in) about history. Lots of sections flew over my head; I'm not too proud to say it. I'm not stupid, and I'm not a genius but what I CAN say is - if you do happen to be stupid, throw this book away NOW.

The writer would clearly win the jeopardy topic "what happened to human transactions over the last 10,000 years." He knows his stuff, right down to those technical details that leave most of us pretending to listen. I learnt the most in the Axial age section; in my opinion the best. Interesting sections on Rome and Greece.

Here's the rub - maybe I'm too cynical - but seems to me this is that rare & clever book that gives you the impression that everything is connected, across thousands of years, in some philosophical and practical dimension. In that sense, and the sense that it was epic, it reminded me of Das Kapital & other such ambitious texts about the shape of society.

I guess what I expected was history and what I got was history and philosophy. Otherwise a very smart book that makes you think about money and debt differently, which to be honest is all the author really wants. People to stop using cash and debt as any sensible moral yardstick.

He's saying (I think) that the Economist's story that, money "saved us" from barter is bollocks. To summarise 500 pages (and therefore ensure I'm wrong) in one sentence?

Government precedes the market by creating the pre-conditions (e.g. for a fiat currency); barter (where it did exist) was based on trust and credit within only small communities; money is the devaluation of that trust & of a natural love contained within human nature; money as a yardstick is built on dehumanisation & spread through war; debt as perceived in the modern age (as a moral obligation by creditor to lender visa versa) is ultimately a consequence of a society whose morals are based on this finalised dehumanisation process.
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