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The History of Money

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,074 ratings  ·  117 reviews
In his most widely appealing book yet, one of today's leading authors of popular anthropology looks at the intriguing history and peculiar nature of money, tracing our relationship with it from the time when primitive men exchanged cowrie shells to the imminent arrival of the all-purpose electronic cash card. 320 pp. Author tour. National radio publicity. 25,000 print.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 10th 1998 by Crown Business (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  1,074 ratings  ·  117 reviews

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Paul Bryant


On the second page of the first chapter of this book about money, Jack Weatherford is talking about human sacrifice in the Aztec religion ("up the long flight of steps to the altar where the priests ripped out his heart") – later on p 64 we get a description of the Templars being burned to death in 1310 (I'll spare you a quote) – and anyone might think that our author is trying desperately to jive up his boring subject w
Andrej Karpathy
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is a relatively short whirlwind tour of some aspects of the history of money, presented chronologically from antiquity to approx. 1997, when this book was published.

Basically, due to a number of properties of asset creation in society (e.g. role of skill/expertise, need for up-front investment in production, batch efficiencies, etc.) various assets regularly end up in surplus or scarcity for any one person or organization, leading to a need for some system of exchange. Money fills thi
Feb 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Written by an anthropologist--Discusses the history of money and how money from cowerie shells to blips on a screen has affected human societies.
Tariq Mahmood
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economy, history
It's a definite guide to various versions of money and its impact on culture. Money in terms of age is only at its beginning. The future will see money evolve above the governments controlling it with the advent of e-money. The success of e-money will be death knell for paper money outside government control. I felt the book left a very positive impression of money's future on me, making money an egalitarian factor which could glue the people together breaking the current monopoly of financial s ...more
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Such a fine book. So accessible, so fully researched. Billionaire Charles R. Schwab calls it "THE book to read" about "the revolutionary transformation of the meaning and use of money".

The first chapter covers the origins of money - of coins, of trading, of markets - in ancient Lydia and it is unforgettable. Weatherford's background as an ethnographer whose widely read in economics, including a knowledge of electronic money systems through the late 1990's, gives his book a historically balanced
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is what i think of as an 'airport book' -- a lot of vivid anecdotes, memorable imagery, and lively prose, however beyond that in terms of actual history or historical insight, not much more than you could get from reading wikipedia for an evening. After some interesting musings in the first few chapters, the book retreats to cultural trivia alternating with a bare-bones history of the mechanics of currency. Not that it was boring, but it was not what i was hoping for.

Add to this the fact th
Molly Brodak
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nonfiction readers
awesome...utterly interesting. You need to know the history of money. You'll never look at it the same way.
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
The illusion in motion. Interesting, but not super entertaining. Of course maybe that is expecting too much given the topic.
Oct 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
Largely obvious; did not learn anything from it.
Also outdated.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: finance, history
In looking for a book about monetary history, I stumbled onto this book by Jack Weatherford, who is an anthropologist and historian. I had previously read his book about Ginghis Khan, which was very enlightening as he delved much into the cultural and human advancements brought about by the rise of the Mongols.

Here again I was not disappointed in ‘The History of Money’ to cover so much interesting research on the cultural significance and stabilizing impact that the transformation in society be
Rune Mønnike
Packed with interesting facts and tidbits of history, but lacks an overarching purpose. Very focused on US economy.
Evan Martin
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lots of interesting historical tidbits and etymologies. Offers insightful perspective on the shaping of the modern world. Needs a new revision to include bitcoin, etc.
Aleksandra Gacevic
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gives a completely different perspective to how money shaped and influenced human societies
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
As anticipated, “the” history of money is quite the story. From extracting hapless villager hearts to pay off the local deity, to dispersing immaterial numerical bits to win crap off Ebay, this is a most interesting development. Weatherford maintains an identifiable structure of three monetary phases, while filling the narrative with any number of fascinating anecdotes. The Spanish/Mexican Peso was the primary currency of the fledgling US?!? That grants an ironic precedent to my statement last y ...more
Tom Schulte
According to Herodotus, the Lydians were the first people to use gold and silver coins and the first to establish retail shops in permanent locations. This statement of Herodotus is one of the pieces of evidence often cited in behalf of the argument that Lydians invented coinage, at least in the West, even though the first coins were neither gold nor silver but an alloy of the two called electrum. This book covers an arc from before the first coinage to the predicted, cash-less future. As such, ...more
Rachel Evans
Jan 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is a comprehensive history of the means of exchange through out the ages. It brings us right up to the present day (well present day when the book was written in 97)
The author discusses inflation, intentional devaluation of money, and how we've arrived at the systems that we have today.
though the authors intention did not seem political I learned a lot about politics especially the role government has upon the money supply.
I found this book for sale at the library and picked it up beca
Jun 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009, history
This was an excellent book chock full of information and ideas I had never really given much thought to before. The author's project was ambitious -- cover money around the world from its invention up to the present day -- and, impressively, he delivered, and without being too inclusive or long-winded.

I think this book was kind of dated, though. It was published in 1997 and a lot has changed in the past twelve years, what with online shopping and banking and so on becoming so big and so on. I wi
Ritesh Pase
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
For someone with no background on this subject this was a good read. It is not necessarily an information based book but rather a good entertainer o the topic of how money has evolved through human history and how it has impacted human history at different times. I read/heard this book on Audible and hence was able to endure through some of the sections of the book where the author goes in bit of a rant mode.

I believe altogether too much time is spent on the post 1850 era and the book is far to
Jo Deann
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really did like the book although it took me awhile to get through it. It takes the reader from the times of bartering for goods and services all the way up to our electronic system that we have today. It talks a lot about the deflation of paper money due to the lack of metal assets (gold, silver, etc) and how that happened in the first place. There is a ton of info in the book it's at times overwhelming, but I did learn a great deal.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Not a bad introduction, but as I am finding in other books on this topic, pretty light on the earliest history of money--its first evolution; and very light on how money gets it value. Trust, they say. But trust has to be built, curated, nurtured. And trust in who or what? Weatherford passes over this too quickly, and then seems so sad about leaving the gold standard that one suspects he believes the only way money can really be worth something you can always trust in is the gold standard!
Aug 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: bored bums
recommended to read for those who wants to know if it really is their money bag in the bank deposite box that keeps on shrinking, or the size of the world that keeps growing.

... or like Jack Sparrow in Pirates 3 says, the world has always been the same, its just has less and less in it.
Javier Villar
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Deeply interesting. Truly useful for some paradigm shift regarding money and wealth.
William Schram
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Money makes the world go round, as they say, and this mantra is illuminated quite well in this book. The History of Money by Jack Weatherford is split into three main sections, each dealing with a different era of money. The first is the development of coinage with the standardization of weights and measures associated with getting that correct. The second era covers the development of banks and the Capitalist Market System. The final era of money, the one that we are in right now, is the era of ...more
Ed Terrell
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you're O.K.
Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash

......Pink Floyd

The History of Money is the history of the world and in this examination, we come to know a little better of where we came from and who we are. Beginning with the use of commodity money, such as cowry shells in Africa, salt in China, and animals in general, each was used as a storehouse of value. From the use of cattle we have the word “ pecuniary" (Latin: “
Jun 08, 2017 rated it liked it
When I went to my sister’s graduation this was the book I brung. I about read the whole thing there. It was a long four hours.
The book is separated into three main sections: Classic Cash, Paper Money, and Electronic Money.

Classic Cash focuses on actual commodities as money. Bronze that can be made into tools; coffee that could be drunk. That sort of thing. It chronicles the history of such money from the Aztecs to Croesus to the Knights Templar to the Medici family.

Paper money focuses on gold be
D.L. Morrese
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
I saw this book while browsing at the library and thought it might be interesting. It is. I already knew a bit about the subject, although I didn't know that The Wizard of Oz was a satire about the debate on what money should be based upon. Apparently, Baum supported basing the dollar on both gold and silver. His character Dorothy represented a Populist orator, Leslie Kelsey (AKA the Kansas Tornado). Oz itself comes from the abbreviation for ounce, which measures the precious metals. The Scarecr ...more
Connie Townsend
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very informative review of the development, devaluation and replacement of various forms of currency through time. Weatherford concisely follows the establishment of American currency from colonial times through the use of credit cards and Electronic money. He then formulates the process of formulating the electronic money and other forms of money for the future.

I was particularly interested in his evaluation of the role of governments in the volume and value of it's currency. He looks had the r
Mike Siegel
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
In my attempt to understand cryptocurrency better I took a step back and tried to understand how currency developed. I wanted to know how currency has been used throughout time and how the government has used (and abused) fiat currency.

This book did all of that and allowed me to understand the impact a decentralized currency may have on the world. If anything, it made me more surprised that the current people in charge haven't tried to stomp out cryptocurrency immediately. The government's cont
Laurence Fraser
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
While this book doesn't skimp on the detail, I finished it without learning much interesting on a conceptual level. Yes, I solidified my understanding of the main revolutions in the history of money, and the important events that lead to them. But on a topic that concerns an abstract entity, I was expecting to encounter technical perspectives that would require a significant level of effort to understand; unfortunately, there were long, needless passages introducing, or expanding on something wi ...more
Kirk Bozeman
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Was looking for a nice overview of the development of currency throughout human history and this does the job very, very well vs. other books I have come across. It is well-written and not overly-detailed as Weatherford is much more interested in tracing the lineage of monetary thinking step-by-step than he is in onanistically over-indulging the minutiae of unnecessary historical anecdotes, perhaps a strength of the anthropologist over the modern historian.

Of interest is the book’s last few cha
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Jack McIver Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is best known for his 2004 book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. His other books include The History of Money; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescu ...more

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