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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Community, Trust and Debt
If you're thinking about studying economics, you should read this book first. If you've already studied economics, you should read this book, but be prepared to be disappointed in the critical faculties of your previous teachers. If you're studying economics, don't read this book - it contradicts too much of what you need to amass to pass your exams - yet...
Published on 3 Sep 2011 by M. Mainelli

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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rough diamond that requires some polishing
This is an almost great book which will cause a seismic shift in the way most its readers think about money and debt. It is a genuine pity, therefore, that the editing of the published version is so shoddy. The prose is careless and repetitive and in one instance I even saw a remark by a reviser in square brackets, wondering whether it was clear to whom the subject...
Published on 5 Mar 2012 by Ross Smith


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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paradigm shifting!, 17 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Paperback)
I have just finished reading Graeber's book. It is full of typo's, clunky prose, and some very tenuously linked theories on various aspects of economic development over the past 5000 years. With that said, I have to confess that this book is one of the most enjoyable and opinion altering books I have ever read. Graeber is not an economist, but an anthropologist whose understanding of how primitive 'economies' function, leads him to question the very basis of modern mainstream and alternative economic thought. This book is not going to give you any clues on the best way to invest or secure your assets, or even provide a solid understanding of how the modern day financial system works, but if you fancy a complete paradigm shift, then this book is a must.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think. There is such a thing as society., 20 April 2014
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This book illustrates brilliantly how we all depend upon each other in all aspects of life - both for mutual benefit and respect but also for exploitation and repression. How we deal with both aspects is the continuing challenge.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Anthropologist examines the myths of Debt, 9 Jan 2013
David Graeber is an Anthropologist so it is perhaps hardly surprising that his examination of 5,000 years of Debt yields us many new insights. We may well read Adam Smith to understand the intricacies of free markets and capitalism, but as Graeber firmly and frequently reminds us they are actually quite different things. You will discover what books Adam Smith himself read, and indeed where many of his well know examples actually came from. Many myths are not only successfully dispelled, but are shown to have been based on very flimsy foundations, as, for example is the assumption that barter preceded both credit and currencies.

Plato's rescue from the slave market of Aegina, the island in the Bay of Athens, by the Libyan Annikeris, who rescued him from slavery for 20 Minas, but then refused repayment, shows how debt has many psychological facets too, and additionally offers an insight of how we all have benefited from how Plato eventually spent the 20 Minas he had saved to repay Annikeris.

Everyone knows that the Rosetta Stone is famous because it is a notice with one face written in Greek and another face in Hieroglyphics, but how many people know what it was actually about ? Is there a possible parallel with the Jewish idea of a Jubilee ? Graeber reveals how other civilisations have coped when debt has become stifling to their economies, which can possibly offer ideas that may help to solve our own crisis.

Yet another fascinating topic that Graeber raises is `The Axial Age', and the flowering of intellectual activity that occurred when Pythagoras, the Buddha, and Confucius were all teaching simultaneously, but unknown to one another.

The fact that Graeber provides fully one hundred pages of references and Bibliography is testimony enough to the rigour of his research and lends corresponding weight to his fascinating and disturbing conclusions.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not the only one you should read from this author, 25 Feb 2012
This is an extraordinary book. Fascinating, convincing and important insofar as it addresses a very central issue. However, this is not the only work of his that should be read. I regard his books 'Possibilities: Essays on hierarchy, rebellion and desire' and 'Fragments of an anarchist anthropology' at least as great as the this one on debt. He is also a very skillful ethnographer as the monographs 'the lost people' and 'direct action' show.
And - with the possible exception of the last one, 'revolutions in reverse' - he also has a fine taste for book covers.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars so interesting, 8 Jun 2014
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i really enjoyed reading this book, and i want to go to that time/place in australia where you bang each other on the head...
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good scholarship but a tad shouty., 12 April 2014
This is a book filled with fascinating new facts (if you haven't studied Economics) regarding the nature of money and debt. The breadth of analysis is admirable. However Mr Graeber is apparently the child of active left wing parents. It shows. If he'd grown up to be a hedge fund manager he'd have been really interesting. As it stands he appears to be merely a product of his early conditioning. If you disregard the shouty bits about evil capitalists it's a very good read indeed.
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9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, money!, 6 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Paperback)
I found this book fascinating. Graeber is a leftist anthropologist (self described as a guru of the Occupy Wall Street and other anti-globalisation movements) and has some amusing tales to tell. Take the Tiv, for example. You or I might find paying our social debts by inviting X&Y back for a dinner party or sending a birthday card a bit tiresome. The Tiv spend their lives returning social debts, often over long distances, never with the same yams or millet. Naturally this obsession with social debt has left them dirt poor.

Debt predates money, as anyone who has heard of Sumerian clay tablets will know already. But debt is not the foundation of economics. Scarcity is. Graeber assumes a world of plenty, to be equitably divided. He does not say who should make this decision though I'd hazard a guess that it would be made by a publicly salaried anthropologist working in a lefty university such as Goldsmith's College.

The history of debt from the anthropological perspective throws up some pretty horrible examples, worse than the Tiv culture mentioned above. The reader will naturally be brought to thank God for Goldman Sachs and all the conveniences of modern life by the time that the author engages with economics. Then it all gets a bit shouty. So far as I could follow the mercifully incoherent theme of this book, I'd summarise it as "social debt good, money debt bad". I do not think that comparing "wage slaves" with real slaves can advance the argument. To equate student loans with debt peonage is offensive and does no favours for the students he teaches.

In conclusion Graeber takes issue with two quotes from von Mises and Niall Ferguson. Pretty innocuous descriptions of reality, I thought. But Graeber declares them stupid without bothering to refute them. Then in the next paragraphs admits that when it comes to the problem of debt and money... he hasn't got a clue. "At this point, we can't even say."

The irony is that Western societies have gone about as far as is prudent with Graeber's aims. Which would you rather have? An Individual Voluntary Arrangement or to have your daughters kidnapped?
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, 2 Aug 2013
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Philmore East (Prague, Czech Republic) - See all my reviews
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Parts of this book are very interesting - the historical / anthropological parts about the origin of debt and money especially. The socio - philosophical ruminations are way too stretched out and sometimes close to postmodernist word games. The book is also way too long - so much erudition is remarkable but does not necessarily have to be shown off so much. The kind of book you are glad you read in the end but sorry you did not find an abstract instead.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good choice to make., 3 Feb 2012
Even though I haven't finished the entire book, yet, I can say that is a good written book with a lot of data and facts which are given in a pleasant way.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy account of Adam Smith's Ideas, 22 July 2013
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Dr. G. Kennedy (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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David Graeber writes with an over certain views of his absolute correctness that is not justified. There is much however worth reading but not to be taken for granted. He has a view of his theme that needs to be checked.
He confuses "trade" with "exchange", a far older behaviour than Smithian bargaining, even missing the significance of much ancient behaviours wrapped in cultural norms that still amount to exchange phenomena. Smith's language was 18th century, and without access to tens of thousands of field researchers' works, all available on the Internet without leaving desk, not available to Smith or anyone else until the mid-20th century. "Truck" was exchange by payment of wages in kind (illegal from the 1820s), "barter" was the exchange of physical things or personal/social obligations, lasting millennia until the introduction of "money", all all the rest were and are "exchange", starting with language sounds. That emperors, kings, and tribal customs imposed symbolic coins, nominal things, etc., as "money" is where we can agree with Graeber.
His imposition of the communist exchange of abilities for needs is still exchange.
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Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (Paperback - 12 Jun 2012)
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