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Publisher's Summary

Now in audio, the updated and expanded edition: David Graeber's "fresh...fascinating...thought-provoking...and exceedingly timely" (Financial Times) history of debt.

Here, anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: He shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like "guilt", "sin", and "redemption") derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it.

©2014 David Graeber (P)2015 Gildan Media LLC

What the critics say

"Controversial and thought-provoking, an excellent book." (Booklist)

What listeners say about Debt - Updated and Expanded

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Interesting but heavy

Very important and interesting information that I think everyone should know. However, as Graeber says in the book this started out as an academic book; hence it is a dense book that takes a lot of time and concentration to listen to. Graeber’s later work is an easier listen for the layman, but this book covers topics that are equally important to
understand.

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Changes your framework

As best as I can understand the main thesis, it is saying that debt, once quantified, became an instrument of control even often to the extent of slavery. Debt is also now the foundation of inequality as it affects different classes differently, because it is applied most usuriously to the ‘industrious poor’ and most generously to élite ‘rentiers’.

Time to re-think capitalism. On to the Piketty books.

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Informative and Enjoyable

An indepth incursion in the genealogy of our actual system, and the mythology that surrounds/supports it, a must read for econ students or anyone in the humanities, a great read for everyone else.

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Really Great Perceptive

A lot of us are aware that things in the world of economics are in some ways fundamentally broken. This book provides a great broad ranging view of how we got here, the cycles of humanities view of money, and context for our current world. To be taken in conjunction with other perspectives, but well worth a read and very valuable as you think through what ought to come next.

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It's exactly what you think it is

It's long and comprehensive and thought-provoking. It has a worldview perspective. It's a bit anarchist.

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Great history lesson

Origin money, the understanding sin of dept, barter economy, slavery and other historical, anthropological and socio-economical factors of Homo Sapience. From the Bronze Age period till today. Just amazing!

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Required listening

Thought provoking and immensely deep. This is a book that will need to be listened to more than once. Didn't always agree with the authors politics, but his academic work is unquestionably great.

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  • Andrew P.
  • 2018-08-07

Debt

This book, by David Graeber, has left a deep impression on me. I particularly liked his observation that some things being ‘worth more than money’ was precisely what led to a price on humans. Priceless family members as collateral for a loan (so the debtor is sure to pay) -> hard times prevent repayment, so the creditor takes the human collateral - > the creditors now must write off the debt or create a market for humans to recoup -> the market now decides the value of people through a sick, but obvious, chain of events which requires stripping the surrounding context of the valued community member to turn them into a thing people can buy. The author covers another dozen or so issues with examples to provide color.

8 people found this helpful

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  • James C. Samans
  • 2016-08-14

Transformative to the point of being revolutionary

What did you love best about Debt - Updated and Expanded?

As we grow up, even before we study economics as a formal discipline, we're given a series of "truths" about human interaction - first and foremost the depiction of a world without money as a barter economy, as well as the "natural" human inclination to act for self-advantage, and these serve as the baseline for our reasoning. Thus, reasonable people applying their intellects to questions of human interaction and morality reach conclusions that can be supported by the underlying assumptions.

What David Graeber shows us in "Debt" is that virtually every such assumption is actually incorrect, either outright wrong or misinterpreted as a matter of historical record, so that all of our later reasoning is upended.

What did you like best about this story?

Before going back thousands of years to begin his unveiling, the author presents us with a scene from a cocktail party where he interacts with several people - one of them a banker, another working with a non-governmental organization. It's immediately clear from this interaction just how transformative Graeber's perspective is.

That Graeber is himself "on the left" is well-known - he self-identifies as an anarchist, and is considered to be one of the figures at the center of the early Occupy movement (see another of his books, "The Democracy Project," for details on this) - but this opening scene reveals even before anything else is discussed how the people we regard as "liberal" are really part of the same worldview as those we call "conservative," and that challenging the underlying assumptions is no more welcomed by one than the other.

What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

Gardner is an excellent narrator, and his tone is just right for the subject matter.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but coming in at nearly 18 hours, that's simply not possible. "Debt" is best listened to in substantial chunks, such as while commuting from place to place; I listened to it on the train, in the car, and while walking. There's a lot here, and it takes time to think about it and absorb the implications.

Any additional comments?

Some people post reviews calling this book "biased." There are certainly some value judgments made by the author, but what most such reviews really seem to be doing is taking issue with the audacity that an anthropologist would present an historical record - well supported by research, mind you - that shows the conventional wisdom on which our current economic thinking is based are all wrong. The negative reviews most often come down to incredulity that someone would dare to tell us that something "everyone" knows to be true (because we were told it was true) could actually be false.

What makes this so amusing is that the people writing such reviews, angry that their worldviews might be so completely wrong and unable to countenance such an idea on an intellectual level, rail that Graeber is "promoting his ideology," even though they're the ones left flailing around defending something whose bases have just been discredited.

You'll get nothing from this book is your intent is to get nothing. If you respond to being presented with very detailed, clearly valid interwoven evidence that much of the world's history just isn't the way that you imagine by saying "Well heck, what does he know?", then your view isn't going to be transformed, because you're taking your current economic beliefs - for whatever reason - purely on faith.

For those of us who studied economics and accepted its premises on faith but built our later understanding on reason from that starting point, reading "Debt" is a really disruptive experience that calls into question almost everything we think and know. It's a great read the first time and better the second.

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  • ProfGolf
  • 2017-02-09

Great insights but theme is hard to follow

The beginning and end of the book are absolutely riveting. They present a highly original reexamination of fundamental economic, social and moral tenets that calls into question many near universal assumptions about human relationships and political organizations.

However the long middle of the book is an academic treatise on several historical societies. I'm sure the author has a clear vision of how these meandering surprises connect to the core theme of debt, but I found myself frequently unable to see their relevance. So that part of the book was a tedious slog for me.

I am going to try rereading it without the middle chapters to see if I can gain a better understanding of the main arguments of how debt relates to violence and social organization. I think there is an important message here.

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  • wbiro
  • 2016-10-19

Far More Interesting than the Title Implies

After a few very dull and tedious philosophy books, this book was a lively relief.

There is lot of interesting general and specific history here, and many good stories/accounts.

Most curious was the theory that the barter system never existed outside of speculative fantasy (still having no evidence of every existing before monetary systems).

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  • Kristin
  • 2015-12-13

Amazing description of debt history

I will qualify I am not a supporter of his protests or really ideals; however I thought this book was extremely well done with an objective perspective that made it a wonderful history lesson.

An excellent perspective on human history and the role debt played. Highly recommend, very easy to listen to and understand.

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  • mminto
  • 2017-01-13

This book peeled my eyes open.

This is one of those rare A+ books. Dense with information and history, it shattered much of what I had thought about money, motivation, and mandkind as a whole. As a former scientist, I was astounded by how many my views of society and culture shifted as the result of reading this book. Truly eye opening.

16 people found this helpful

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  • LGJX
  • 2017-01-20

Required Reading for Living in 2016 Onward

All of this within is important regardless if you agree with it or not. It gives you a key thing that is often hard to find: Perspective.

While some may dislike the length of the book, it is it's very length that gives it enough room for impact.

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  • christopher
  • 2019-01-04

Arrant rubbish

I'll begin by declaring my colors. For several years during the 1980s I worked on Latin American debt rescheduling. It would of course be a miracle if I thought any of what I have been listening to had any substance. Be assured - no miracle has occurred.
As a communicator Graber leaves much to be desired. But if I understand his position correctly, he is suggesting that borrowing and lending money has a moral dimension and that if a loan does not meet certain moral standards then its repayment should not be enforced. That is nonsense. Whatever may have occurred in ancient Egypt, ancient China, ancient India, ancient Babylon or ancient anywhere else, in today's world a loan is a legal contract governed by the laws of the corresponding jurisdiction. Those laws also prescribe parameters within which the terms and conditions of the loan must fall, and the rights and remedies of lenders and borrowers respectively. Within those parameters lenders are entitled to exercise such rights to their fullest extent, as are borrowers. Whether the lender should (implied moral dimension) have made the loan in the first place or whether the borrower should (again, moral dimension) repay the loan have, in this day and age no relevance. Bankruptcy, of moral importance in our world in the 19thCentury (don't know about other worlds), lost its moral dimension during the 20th Century and today is merely a legal manoever. This is not to say that non-payment of loans has no non-legal longer term consequences . If a lender lends to a borrower and the borrower fails to repay, the lender may at his discretion charge off the loan or modify the terms and conditions. If the lender does so, the probablility is that that borrower will experience some difficulty in finding another lender in the future. It is that factor alone that serves as an incentive to repay. No amount of mumbo jumbo about religion and commerce using the same words to describe moral obligations and business ones is going to change that fact. Nor is the lender going to use that mumbo jumbo to persuade the borrower to repay, and the mumbo jumbo is equally useless to the borrower as a defense against repayment. If we allow moral arguments to hold sway in determining legal cases, then we might as well throw away our lawbooks, close our courts and dismiss our judges. For the moment you admit moral arguments then judgement will depend not on the law but on the moral suasion of the judge. All predictability of legal case outcome will be lost. That is not to say that our laws should not reflect moral values. But it is in the legislature, not in the courtroom that such issues should be determined, with such determinations being reflected in the corresponding legislation.
OK, so now we've got that out of the way, the rest of the book becomes irrelevant. But I cannot leave without observing that while written by an academic (I assume, since he describes himself as an anthropologist, that he is an academic), the book's arguments lack any vestige of the rigor that one would expect. It contains a series of dubious theories which he announces and then demolishes with all the derring do of a knight in shining armor disposing of a man made out of straw. The whole argument about barter misses one important point - the universally exchangeable asset is work. This I do not recall him mentioning in any part of the book and it makes all his assumptions about barter highly questionable.
I have always thought anthropology to be the second least demanding academic discipline (the least demanding is of course sociology). Mr. Graeber has brought all his acumen to bear on his subject and I suppose the result is therefore pretty much what we might expect. I certainly wish him the best on his next project but would recommend that he sticks to his own subject, which is presumably one that he knows something about.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Buyer
  • 2017-03-16

Engaging & Thought provoking

Well worth the price. I see the examples Graeber set out all over our world. Gardener gives a great performance.

A little academic at times but seriously worth it.

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  • Toast
  • 2016-10-01

Goes off the deep end halfway through

Any additional comments?

The premise introduced in the beginning of the book--that the history of money consisted of a progression from credit to currency to barter, rather than the other way around, was interesting and compelling. There's a passing mention of how refusing to allow nations to default on debt amounts to moral hazard (true enough), but unfortunately after that things went downhill. Midway through the book the author switches to a strange view of the world where he insists that because we don't charge a coworker money for passing them a hammer when working together, we're all really communists (actual example from the book). All of which is part of an elaborate straw man version of traditional economics where all human interactions must be self-interested exchange, which the author constructs, then attacks for distorting reality to make all interactions fit that model. All of which seems like projecting on the author's part, since he immediately follows that with examples where he twists all kinds human interactions so that he can try to portray them as communism.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Client d'Amazon
  • 2018-09-03

Wannabe deep thinking on the essence of money

Really bad reading (listening), D. GRAEBER takes never-ending paths to express simple concepts and ideas.. Cheap