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Debt: The First 5,000 Years Hardcover – Jul 12 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (July 12 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633862
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.5 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 780 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #144,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Winner of the Bateson Book Prize awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology

“One of the year’s most influential books. Graeber situates the emergence of credit within the rise of class society, the destruction of societies based on ‘webs of mutual commitment’ and the constantly implied threat of physical violence that lies behind all social relations based on money.” —Paul Mason, The Guardian

 “The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate... It is a meditation on debt, tribute, gifts, religion and the false history of money. Graeber is a scholarly researcher, an activist and a public intellectual. His field is the whole history of social and economic transactions.” Peter Carey, The Observer

"An alternate history of the rise of money and markets, a sprawling, erudite, provocative work."
Drake Bennett, Bloomberg Businessweek

"[A]n engaging book. Part anthropological history and part provocative political argument, it's a useful corrective to what passes for contemporary conversation about debt and the economy."
Jesse Singal, Boston Globe

"Fresh... fascinating... Graeber’s book is not just thought-provoking, but also exceedingly timely."
Gillian Tett, Financial Times (London)

"Terrific... In the best anthropological tradition, he helps us reset our everyday ideas by exploring history and other civilizations, then boomeranging back to render our own world strange, and more open to change."
Raj Patel, The Globe and Mail

"Graeber's book has forced me to completely reevaluate my position on human economics, its history, and its branches of thought. A Marxism without Graeber's anthropology is beginning to feel meaningless to me."
Charles Mudede, The Stranger

"The world of borrowing needs a little demystification, and David Graeber's Debt is a good start."
The L Magazine

"Controversial and thought-provoking, an excellent book."

"This timely and accessible book would appeal to any reader interested in the past and present culture surrounding debt, as well as broad-minded economists."
Library Journal

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 brilliant, deeply original political thinker."
Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell

“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, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago

About the Author

David Graeber teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire, and Direct Action: An Ethnography. 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.”

In the summer of 2011, he worked with a small group of activists and Adbusters magazine to plan Occupy Wall Street. Bloomberg Businessweek has called him an "anti-leader" of the movement. 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."

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By One Million Monkeys on Aug. 16 2011
Format: Hardcover
Everyone talks about debt but I can't think of anyone else who has so deeply explored its role in our history and culture. This book goes FAR beyond a discussion of debt issues in contemporary capitalistic society (thought it does plenty of that too). Graeber has done amazing research into debt's role in religion, revolutions, and political power systems across cultures and throughout history, and he has come up with surprising, counter-intuitive, and provocative results. This book will completely change the way you think about economics, morality, power systems, philosophy, and money.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the very best books I have read. Sheds a bright light on the origines of the economy and the fairy tales that surround it. Brillant! I love the anthropologist perspective; the way debt has evolved through small family clans to modern society. I have to admit that, having researched the "economist" ways of managing natural resources and the "unlimited growth" paradigm (in a finite world, this is quite a bite to chew for an engineer), my understanding is that the economy has very little place for actually putting theories to the test... In science, theories are thought up, tested in practice and if they fail, well you've learned something! In economy it seems to me the theory just has to make sense.. and there it is, it must be that way things work... And just look at how it "works"!

This is a very nice complement to any research on the "mechanics" of economy that, in the end, are quite drab readings, and usually offer an incomplete perspective since the basic nature of economy is in fact social(no I'm not a socialist!!) through human exchange. I highly recommend this reading to anyone curious of how our world works... Also read Zarlenga.

BTW, nothing particularely marxiste, communist (except the fact the we, as humans do share "common" riches... and no I'm not a communist for using the word common!), this is a perticular and interesting view and has been cited in a white paper by economists from the IMF (... damn commies!) ;)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WorldofHiglet on Feb. 1 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I put 5 stars as a review because the book is compelling, enraging, essential reading and absolutely fascinating. However, how can I say I 'love' a book about how a system has been designed by the powerful to screw ordinary people over? I prefer 5 'recommend' stars.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER on Feb. 4 2012
Format: Hardcover
What is most striking about Debt is the overwhelming power of its numerous ideas. It is so rare that a book can hit the reader over the head with even one major new idea. I mean a world-shaking idea that upsets one's entire value system and causes the reader to reframe everything going forward. David Graeber seems to be able to do it at will.

Here are a few small points that have changed my way of thinking:

-Graeber begins by debunking the sacred Adam Smith, which he admits threatens the very foundation of economics, and that economics itself rests on the completely false foundations of Smith's unfounded and unprovable assumptions. The first clop up the side of the head is the destruction of the notion that money preceded markets and credit. He shows definitively and with total certainty that it was completely the other way around. Credit came first because there was no coinage. Markets and money, on the other hand, are side effects of governments. They cannot exist without institutional structures in place. And countries didn't appear until late in the human game. Ultimately, he says Smith was describing an ideal state, not anything that has ever existed anywhere.

-Next, Graeber swings a punch for honor. All debt seems to stem from honor. Medieval Ireland for example, was structured on a monetary system that valued the honor of various classes of people, and assigned hard goods to value them ' right in law. So honor was 'monetized' in hard goods. Coins had no place beside eggs and cows and slave girls. Too abstract. Too remote. Similar official valuations of honor to commodities occurred elsewhere in history too. Tellingly, the Greek word for honor is the same word for price.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jay Franklin on Aug. 16 2011
Format: Hardcover
For something that's so occupied the news and politics globally since the Great Recession began, it's remarkable that no one has bothered to investigate the history of debt. Until now that is. Anthropologist David Graeber has brilliantly traced the origins of this curious human phenomenon all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia and has come up with some surprising conclusions. For instance, debt preceded physical money for hundreds of years. It's also inextricably linked to our concepts of morality and religion. And his investigation is not merely a Euro-centric view of how modern economy developed but one that spans the globe. This book is THE Big Idea book of the year. If you liked Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond or Salt by Mark Kurlansky, this book is for you.
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