“Graeber’s most important contribution to the movement may owe less to his activism as an anarchist than to his background as an anthropologist. His recent book DEBT: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, $32) reads like a lengthy field report on the state of our economic and moral disrepair. In the best tradition of anthropology, Graeber treats debt ceilings, subprime mortgages and credit default swaps as if they were the exotic practices of some self-destructive tribe. Written in a brash, engaging style, the book is also a philosophical inquiry into the nature of debt — where it came from and how it evolved. Graeber’s claim is that the past 400 years of Western history represent a grievous departure from how human societies have traditionally thought about our obligations to one another. What makes the work more than a screed is its intricate examination of societies from ancient Mesopotamia to 1990s Madagascar, and thinkers ranging from Rabelais to Nietzsche — and to George W. Bush’s brother Neil.”
Thomas Meaney, New York Times Book Review(Read the whole article)
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 5,000 years ago, during the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.
With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins—and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. 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.
David Graeber teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Towards an Anthropological Theory of ValueLost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in MadagascarFragments of an Anarchist AnthropologyPossibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire, and Direct Action: An Ethnography. He has written for Harper’sThe NationMute, and The New Left Review. In 2006, he delivered the Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics, an annual talk that honors “outstanding anthropologists who have fundamentally shaped the study of culture.” 

Read the Debt first 23 pages on ISSU