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Debt: The First 5,000 Years Audiobook, by David Graeber Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: David Graeber Narrator: Grover Gardner Publisher: Recorded Books: Gildan Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2012 ISBN: 9781596599376
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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. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “Fresh…fascinating…Graeber’s book is not just thought-provoking, but also exceedingly timely.” 

    Financial Times

  • “An alternate history of the rise of money and markets, a sprawling, erudite, provocative work.”


  • “An engaging book. Part anthropological history and part provocative political argument, it’s a useful corrective to what passes for contemporary conversation about debt and the economy.”

    Boston Globe

  • “One of the year’s most influential books. Graeber situates the emergence of credit within the rise of class society, the destruction of societies based on ‘webs of mutual commitment’ and the constantly implied threat of physical violence that lies behind all social relations based on money.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate…It is a meditation on debt, tribute, gifts, religion and the false history of money. Graeber is a scholarly researcher, an activist and a public intellectual. His field is the whole history of social and economic transactions.” 

    Observer (London)

  • “Controversial and thought-provoking, an excellent book.”


  • “This timely and accessible book would appeal to any reader interested in the past and present culture surrounding debt, as well as broad-minded economists.” 

    Library Journal

Listener Reviews

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  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 David | 2/14/2014

    " Okay that's much better! Thanks for all the reviews "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alex | 2/13/2014

    " I can't recommend this book highly enough - truly one of the most brilliant and insightful historical analyses I've ever read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Hans | 2/3/2014

    " Graeber has written a very dense book. Instead of taking a classic economic perspective on debt, money, markets and state he takes an anthropological perspective. By looking at the history of debt he tries to show that the dichotomy that we see between states and markets is false. He does this to target and attack our current thinking about capitalism (which can only work if we believe it is finite) and about money (an oppressive tool surround by violence). This book is full of incredible stories. His thinking is so different from other people, that I found it very difficult to judge it. This book merits some rereading and pondering. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Larry | 2/1/2014

    " There have been a few books which have radically broadened my understanding of the world. Jane Jacob's Systems of Survival, Marvin Harris' cultural materialism books, Disaster Capitalism, a few others. To this short list I now have to add Debt: The First 5,000 years. Combining history, anthropology, finance, and other disciplines Graeber shows how a broad range of cultures from China to Europe have had their societies shaped by their understanding of debt (and vice versa). The sections on Islamic attitudes towards finance were particularly interesting to me, as was Graeber's careful distinction between market economies, human economies, and capitalist economies. Through it all Graeber keeps his viewpoint firmly on the ordinary person and how they were affected by the thoughts and actions of kings, philosophers, and religious institutions on what precisely debt meant, and what the nature of money was. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Chase | 1/23/2014

    " Terribly interesting. I'm considering re-reading it right now for better understanding. This is a book which will reward repeat reads. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jahve | 1/17/2014

    " Best book I've red in years. Starts great with challenging orthodoxy about economics, and goes on to bring inside from origins of Haiti's current predicament, to slave trade. Graeber keeps interest up very well but there is a feeling that the books is hurried out. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Antonio | 1/8/2014

    " Thought provoking and essential read! Simple and amazing description of how the economic system works, with detailed history background. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Loren | 4/24/2013

    " This was a really challenging read but in a really eye-opening way. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Suzanne | 11/18/2012

    " Interesting, but a bit repetitive as to his theme. Also, a million notes, yet somehow he managed not to give cites for some of the most interesting stuff. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Steve | 11/1/2012

    " One of the best, ambitious works of non-fiction I've read since Seeing Like a State or The Condition of Postmodernity while also managing to be entertaining and readable. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Heath | 9/29/2012

    " This book was really good for challenging assumptions about the roles money and credit play in our society. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cadillacrazy | 2/21/2012

    " A pretty dense read about how debt has worked in society over history, and how money, and barter were less common in history than credit(in many different forms). Interesting bits of info and links that bring a lot of things into perspective. "

About the Author

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’s, NationMute, and the New Left Review. 

About the Narrator

Grover Gardner (a.k.a. Tom Parker) is an award-winning narrator with over eight hundred titles to his credit. Named one of the “Best Voices of the Century” and a Golden Voice by AudioFile magazine, he has won three prestigious Audie Awards, was chosen Narrator of the Year for 2005 by Publishers Weekly, and has earned thirty-seven Earphones Awards.