Antropologicheskij forum, 2016, no. 31


A Review of DAVID GRAEBER, DEBT. THE FIRST 5000 YEARS. Brooklyn; New York: Melville House. 2011, 534 pp.; DAVID GRAEBER, DOLG: PERVYE 5000 LET ISTORII, transl. by A. Dunaev. Moscow: AdMarginem Press, 2015, 528 pp.

Yulia Vymyatnina

European University at St Petersburg
3 Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia

Ekaterina Guschina

European University at St Petersburg
3 Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia

Abstract: The book under review presents a wide-scale investigation of the role of debt in social relations, the interrelation of debt and money, as well as the evolution of various forms of debt and money in the written history of humanity. By equating the notion of debt with the notion of money, Graeber attempts to describe the joint evolution of both phenomena in a variety of social contexts (formation and development of governments, wars, changing economic systems). The author demonstrates erudition and knowledge of an enormous number of facts, but hardly verifies them or ensures data compatibility. This means that the audience to whom Graeber primarily addresses his book and whose myths he wants to dethrone, namely, mainstream economists, is unlikely to read it. The book needs a coauthor — a professional economist or economic historian — who would organise and check the facts, provide insight from different economic schools, and highlight the issues relevant to economists of all approaches. Despite all its disadvantages, the book is a useful reading for all who are interested in placing credit booms, cryptocurrencies, and fiat money into the widest historical context possible.

Keywords: debt, money, credit, origins of money, economic anthropology.

To cite: Vymyatnina Yu., Guschina E., 'A Review of David Graeber, Debt. The First 5000 years. Brooklyn; New York: Melville House, 2011, 534 pp.; David Graeber, Dolg: pervye 5000 let istorii, transl. by A. Dunaev. Мoscow: AdMarginem Press, 2015, 528 pp.', Antropologicheskij forum, 2016, no. 31, pp. 267–277.