Debt (David Graeber book)

Published 2021-02-21

I decided to read this book because I was blown away by Graeber’s 2018 book, Bullshit Jobs. Debt is a more ambitious book, and perhaps a bit too ambitious. It aims to do several things: criticize capitalism, tell a sweeping history of debt, and debunk myths about the origins of money. It achieves all these things, but not with much narrative cohesion. As a result, throughout the long middle section (chapters 3-11) I lost the thread of what Graeber was trying to express.

I kept thinking about the narrative structure of The Last Dance, the Netflix documentary series about Michael Jordan and the ‘98 season of the Chicago Bulls: each episode told part of the story of the ‘98 season, and part of the broad history that led up to it. As a viewer, you learn all about the history, but you are constantly reminded of its relevance to the main story. Debt would have been more accessible if Graeber had alternated between telling the 5,000-year history of debt and, say, explaining the 2008 financial crisis, or at least trying to connect the history back to present-day concerns.

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading it in this order:

  • Chapters 1 and 2
  • Chapter 12
  • Afterword
  • Chapters 3-11

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