The First 5,000 Years

Debt (2011, Melville House)

Hardcover, 534 pages

English language

Published May 21, 2011 by Melville House.

OCLC Number:

View on OpenLibrary

4 stars (10 reviews)

The author shows that before there was money, there was debt. For 5,000 years humans have lived in societies divided into debtors and creditors. For 5,000 years debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates, laws and religions. The words “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption” come from ancient debates about debt. These terms and the ideas of debt shape our most basic ideas of right and wrong.

20 editions

Violence ends in Debt

5 stars

David Graeber is a master of taking a familiar idea, then leaving it precisely where it is, and moving you as a reader around it to see it from unexpected angles. In Debt he does this masterfully. Beginning with a critique of the moralistic perspective of debt ("one should pay one's debts"), followed with a sharp denial of a common claim by most modern economists (that barter preceded money), Graeber lays into five thousand years of economic history via meticulous research and his own brand of coy, enjoyable writing.

From an anthropological analysis of contemporary societies to a historical analysis that thankfully takes in European and non-European views, the book is appreciably ambitious. It seamlessly links debt and contemporary economics to war, plunder and violence, something that has been long discussed but rarely so eloquently. It is also not without its flaws or a few broad claims, but Graeber's way …

Review of 'Debt' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

Debt is an anthropologist's take on the history of money, debt, and political economy. The book is largely an attack on many of the assumptions mainstream economists make about human nature and human history. Foremost among those false assumptions is what Graeber calls the Myth of Barter - the idea that prior to money, trade happened only through barter. Graeber, like others before him, points out that a society or economy organized around barter has never existed. Instead, the earliest human societies organized trade around centralized communal distribution or (much more commonly) credits and debts, often elaborately measured and recorded.Graeber then re-tells 5,000 years of economic history, arguing that history can be seen as a cycle between debt-based and money-based societies. He explains that the first money-based societies were largely an outgrowth of imperialism, war finance, and slavery. The general idea is that imperial states began to raise professional armies …
avatar for lucasrizoli

rated it

4 stars
avatar for mishari

rated it

5 stars
avatar for asmundg

rated it

4 stars
avatar for Fuxino

rated it

4 stars
avatar for nevermore

rated it

5 stars
avatar for tastytea

rated it

4 stars


  • Business & Investing -- Economics -- Economic History
  • Business & Investing -- Economics -- Money & Monetary Policy
  • History -- Historical Study -- Social History
  • History -- World