Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Written by:
David Graeber
Narrated by:
Grover Gardner
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Release Date
June 2013
17 hours 25 minutes
Before there was money, there was debt.

Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems-to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There's not a shred of evidence to support it.

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that 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.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history-as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
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Joey H.

This book changed the way I see pretty much everything. One of the best books ever for anthropology geeks.

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did not like this book. the author does not offer any solutions to our debt problems. he just complains of the current system and asks the read to think of better solutions.

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Very interesting read. It’s definitely one I’ll come back to

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Salatiso Mdeni

From an anthropological perspective I enjoyed the book. I frequently delve into history for lessons and from that perspective the book did not dissappoint. It's amazing that virtual money as it is presented today through more sophisticated technology is nothing new, it's only the technology and enabling tools that have changed. Despite having done great work in researching the topic the author somehow comes accross as having a grudge against economists, Adam Smith being the primary target. While I understand the point the author is trying to make somehow he appears jelous and seems to have an inferiority complex against economists, hates capitalism and the free market. One would think he would come up with a sound alternative in the conclusion, not so. Instead he puts in a "good word for the non industrious poor", in a move towards a "society where people can live more by working less". Said poor who "aren't hurting anyone" and "improving the world more than we acknowdge" by taking time off work. Same poor who are the beneficiaries of advances brought about by capitalism; longer life expectancy due to medical advances, affordable and adequate food supplies, better communication and access through the world wide web and no longer being helpless victims of nature since now climate trends can be studied and planned for. I know these things because I have been one of the poor and relatively speaking still am against the 1%, I could only change that by working more in a system that enabled me to do so irrespective of my past. Perhaps I'm too biased towards the realistic view of economists like Thomas Sowell who fully acknowledge "There are no solutions, there are only trade-offs; and you try to get the best trade-off you can get, that's all you can hope for".

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Salma Taman

This is an excellent read. Capitalism needs to be reformed and understanding debt is the ultimate way to do so. I highly recommend this rich and life changing book.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years
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