Oh man this is so great! And so infuriating!
The great part: The central project of this book is to demonstrate that debt is a political tool whose moral valence points the direction that sustains hierarchies. I.e. there are occasions when we feel as a moral issue that one ought to "pay one's debts," and we feel equally strongly in other situations that the moral burden is on the lender to forgive. Interrogating the difference is incredibly interesting, and gets us into the history of monetary systems, some semi-radical politics, and a lot of deconstructive social thinking. I dig it. I've recently really gotten into finance and investing; reading this book predates that, but it speaks to the same interest. When you start talking about money – I mean talking about money as a tool rather than as a personal finance topic – you by definition start talking about a lot of deeply personal questions of valuation, measurement, and self.
The infuriating: This book is mostly anthropology, and, well. Anthropology. Christ. There's a field that puts the anecdote in anecdata. I swear sometimes what they teach in anthropology grad schools goes like this: "Okay, first you come up with your conclusion. Make it something really big and sweeping about the nature of society. Got it? Okay, then go find an obscure tribe from the Australian bush that no one has ever heard of. One of those villages of two hundred isolated people. Then explain how one aspect of that tribe's society demonstrates your conclusion. Voila! It's proved!"
The number of times I snapped, "Citation, please," while reading this book . .
It's worth reading, because it's interesting and wide-reaching, and like I said, you can't talk about this stuff without getting pretty fundamental. And he throws out great thoughts on every page, with hardly the time to complete them. There was this particularly excellent drop-in he made towards the end about how we're told that money/development will always corrupt. You know, like how discovering a diamond mine is the worst thing that can happen to a poor village. And he's like, "Well, yes, but then again, who does that story serve? Because if you think about it, saying that humans will always behave badly when given enough money is a great story if you want to excuse the bad behavior you have just committed."
And I was like, "Huh!" And then he was off on some other dubiously sourced and occasionally flat-out wrong tangent that was nonetheless great.