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The End Of Money: From Cell Phones to Superdollars, a Globetrotting Search for the Future Of Cash Hardcover – Feb 14 2012
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Kirkus Reviews, 1/15/12
“Alternating between in-depth reporting and personal rumination, Wired contributing editor Wolman tries to figure out what a cashless society would mean and whether it is an idea whose time has come…He has plenty of thoughts about what could replace physical money, but he is wise enough to understand that he cannot imagine all of the unexpected outcomes. An intriguing book on a topic that many readers have always taken for granted: the cash in their purses and wallets.”
“An entertaining and engaging canter through the world of money, both real and electronic.”
“A fascinating exploration of how we are evolving into a society that relies entirely on plastic and mouse-clicks to buy, sell and save what we need.”
“A rallying cry for the anti-cash movement.”
“[A] world-spanning tour…A book that has many intriguing elements…[Wolman] makes many good points about the absurdities of cash…Raise[s] some intriguing questions and present[s] the views and personalities of some very interesting people.”
“[An] engaging new book.”
“[A] fascinating new book.”
“A fascinating must read book.”
The London Guardian (UK), 3/2/12
“Informally tech-hipsterish prose…One of the most illuminating stories here is the increasing use of mobile-phone payment systems in India and elsewhere.”
“Fascinating and erudite.”
“Wolman's vision of a future without cash has a serious side, but has gonzo brilliance as well…[The End of Money] takes us on a whistle-stop tour of intriguing monetary phenomena that it would be difficult to learn about elsewhere…Wolman's conversational prose style comes into its own; and many of his interlocutors are, if you'll forgive the pun, priceless…[Wolman’s] book is a lively introduction to this important topic.”
“Full of critical thinking about cash and economies.”
“From a history of the invention and rise of physical money to the evolution of paperless alternatives and cross-cultural influences on cash today, this pairs history with insights from a range of individuals who see the option of a 'cashless society' as either a big pro or a big con. Any collection strong in economics and money issues will find this an intriguing survey of what will happen to counterfeiters and others in the coming cashless society.”
“Several policy questions can be asked after reading this brilliant book…Invaluable end-of-chapter notes and bibliography make this study a good starting point for those seeking further research and writings on money.”
Amazon.com Top 100 Picks for 2012
Washington Post, Top 5 Business Titles, 1/31/13
About the Author
David Wolman is a contributing editor at  Wired. He has written for such publications as  Outside,  Mother Jones,  Newsweek,  Discover,  Forbes, and  Salon, and his work appeared in Best American Science Writing 2009. A former Fulbright journalism fellow in Japan and graduate of Stanford University's journalism program, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he received a 2011 Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship. His previous books are A Left-Hand Turn Around the World and Righting the Mother Tongue. Visit his website atwww.david-wolman.com and follow him on Twitter at @davidwolman.
Top Customer Reviews
Even his argument for an end to cash is not well thought out. Certainly cash will disappear eventually, but like the newspapers that have followed a similar historic trajectory, paper money has been an enduring success for good reasons. The emergence and evolution of paper money has been accompanied by a deep and far-reaching evolution of human behavior and skills related to exchange, value and time in the modern world. Even today over a billion adults, mostly in the villages of the developing world, have little access to our modern economy. Paper money is one of the only links they (and their children) have to these modern human practices and skills.
Far from seeing this, David Wolman briefly visits urban India and on this basis proclaims that cash 'is most harmful to the billions of people who have so little of it.' Most of India's 800 million or so poor people live in the villages and rural towns (which Wolman does not report having visited). He concludes that the only real users of cash are money launderers, drug cartels and tax dodgers -- but even he admits that these individuals mostly use very large value denominations -- not the denominations used by poor villagers.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The author decided to live without spending cash for a year, but he does not develop that portion of the saga at length. Mostly he focuses on visionaries who are hoping, for a variety of reasons, to eliminate paper money and coins. Some of the advocates believe a cashless society would function more smoothly and reduce deficit spending. Others are more politically oriented, wanting to remove governments from printing/coining what has come to be called "money." In Iceland, Wolman looks at whether or not the citizenry will actually put an end to the national currency. In England, he mingles with deep-thinking reformers who discuss how to achieve a digital cash economy. In economies mired in poverty, including much of rural India, Wolman notes how cash transactions make little sense. In many economic circumstances, writes the author, writing checks against a bank account is both illogical in theory and costly in terms of savings lost. As the narrative progresses, Wolman riffs on dirty money (literally, since bills and coins transmit germs), the successes and failures of counterfeiters, the techies who have turned their smart phones into banks and many other twists spawned by thinking about money as a physical object. The author mostly keeps his biases masked, but he leans toward the belief that physical money is in its twilight. He has plenty of thoughts about what could replace physical money, but he is wise enough to understand that he cannot imagine all of the unexpected outcomes.
An intriguing book on a topic that many readers have always taken for granted: the cash in their purses and wallets.
What you're left with is some insightful and entertaining material... what you'd find in an average episode of 60 Minutes. But it seems like the author ran away from the big questions, such as faith in the U.S. dollar as reserve currency... and how exactly digital money will overcome cash in developed markets like the U.S. and Europe.
Long story short, I think this book is a little short on depth. It raises more questions than it answers. And if that was the author's intent, then well done. But I was expecting more conclusive evidence and deeply held conviction than was on display in The End of Money.
The title and powerful endorsements from Larry Summers, Chris Anderson, etc. were the strongest part of the book.
The End of Money is a good introduction to the subject of a cashless society. As to whether it should be considered the definitive book on the death of cash? I don't think so. But I'm not sure it was intended to be... which is why I've awarded it 3 stars.
The author is very engaging - no dry stories or antiquated examples in here! Readers will be delighted to encounter a fun yet informative set of facts that provide ample opportunity to gain greater understanding of the history, trends, promises and pitfalls surrounding what is likely to be one of the most dramatic changes to society in eras.
Those wishing for more resources and references will be pleased to encounter the inclusion of documented citations and references. However, there are also liberal examples, opinions and interveiw segments included which add insight into how people around the nation/world think about the topic. Agree or disagree...it doesn't really matter...it makes for great reading!
Now, keep in mind, this book is NOT a technical mannifesto nor does it attempt to provide guidance/insight into anticipated changes. Emphasis is on people and perception rather than the "nuts and bolts" of going cashless.
Very enjoyable read! Terrific for those interest in politics, economics and of course, history as well as future trends. Would make an excellent supplement to course readings or other topical areas of study.
I don't have any doubt that the cashless society, as Wolman predicts, is coming. We've been anticipating it for a long time. In a science fiction novel I wrote decades ago the society used digital "points" that were kept track of by the totalitarian government. You got points for being productive or doing what society wanted and you lost points for being unproductive or doing what society didn't like. You got an allotment at various times in your life and if you went broke you were forcibly made productive or else...
Perhaps the best feature of a cashless society: less crime. Another nice feature: no sharing of germs on bills. Digital cash harbors no bacteria (but watch out for viruses). But Wolman's main argument to hasten us toward the end of money is that cash is expensive. It costs money to make cash (and guess who pays?). And you can lose cash or get it taken from you. And then there is all that we pay to fight counterfeiting. Wolman has a nice chapter on who makes the funny money and how sometimes it is better than the "real" thing and increasingly impossible to detect unless you are an expert. One more aside: in the 70s I wrote a short story about a guy who passed one-dollar bills, called "Garbage Sam and the Bill Passer" (included in my short story collection available at Amazon). The bills were made by the "Red Chinese" but Wolman shows us that in the real world of today the main culprits are the North Koreans who are counterfeiting the Yankee dollar so perfectly that they have cost the US billions of dollars--well, that would be the Yankee hundred dollar bill.
Surprisingly the most important expense associated with using cash is the inconvenience. This is especially true for the lower rungs of society. And Wolman is not just talking about usurious payday advances. First there's the time and effort needed to pay out and count bills and coins. This may not seem like much unless you work in a convenience store or a bank, but actually compared to flashing your phone at merchant it is life in the very slow lane. And if you're the merchant cash can be troublesome because you have to take measures to make sure your employees are not dipping into the till, and of course you have to get that cash to the bank. And for society as a whole, cash businesses sorely tempt the honest to cheat on their income taxes. Add up all that slowness and...well, time is money. Worldwide the difference goes into the billions of dollars, euros, yuans, etc.
Okay, Wolman makes his argument and at least I'm convinced. So why aren't all the reviews of this book glowing? It's certainly well written and imminently readable with flashes of sparkling prose and a lot of interesting information.
Reason number one: some people fear the coming of the cashless society as just another step toward totalitarianism. (They are right, but nothing can stop that except a reversion to a more primitive way of life, probably via the breakdown of society...but that's another story.)
Another reason is that the gold bugs and Fed haters don't like to read about the virtues of fiat money, which Wolman celebrates. And finally some people might think that Wolman wanders a bit afield in some of the chapters, perhaps most especially in the last two chapters. The adventure in India in Chapter 7 with mobile digital money, while germane, could be seen as a bit drawn out. And the diversion at the Coin and Currency Show in Portland, Oregon in the Chapter 8 might appear tacked on.
However I think those last two chapters, while not as interesting as the earlier ones, each served a purpose. In India Wolman showed us why it is the poor and the average person who is estranged from the plastic and digital money that we take for granted who will be best served by the death of cash. And among the numismatics in the final chapter we can see why it is psychologically hard for many people to part with the beauty, romance and history of bills and coins. However, as Wolman quotes a coin collector as saying, "If change means no more coins, then no more coins. Besides, I collect backwards in history, not forwards." (p. 199)
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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