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Debt: the First 5,000 Years

publication date: Jun 19, 2011
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author/source: Valuentum Editorial Staff

Valuentum's subscriber base enjoys reading the latest and greatest investing books. As a result, Valuentum requests and receives business and investing books before they are officially released. Our editorial staff took a look at the following book, and here's what we thought after reading it:

Debt: the First 5,000 Years
By David Graeber. Melville House Publishing, 2011. 544 p. ISBN 978-1-933633-86-2.
Book Release Date: July 12, 2011

Graeber (Reader in the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London) takes a multi-pronged approach to exploring debt, looking at both the moral and economic underpinnings of debt as well as providing anthropological evidence of the long history of debt and credit.  He refutes the generally accepted history of money, which posits that barter systems led to coins, which eventually led to the need for credit.  Instead, Graeber presents a history where credit existed long before coins or cash and shows how societies have adapted either system, one based on credit or one based on bullion, to fit their needs.  In addition to the passages providing examples from societies around the world, Graeber also weaves in discussions of economic theory and how this still affects us today.  While he argues that the idea of barter promulgated in such works as The Wealth of Nations never existed, the work of others, including Mitchell-Innes, may be more on target. 

Valuentum’s Take: This book is for you if you’d like to read about how culture and economics are intertwined.  This book is a blend of history, economics, and anthropology, with chapters that focus on each aspect.  The final four chapters present Graeber’s take on the history of debt, from 800 BC to the present.

Next Up: Please be sure to check back next week for our review of 28 Business Thinkers Who Changed the World by Rhymer Rigby, expected to be released June 28.


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