Paul Graham says you can’t try to write about everything that’s wrong with the world. If you did, you’d be Noam Chomsky.
I think this statement is as true of David Graeber as it is Chomsky. But whereas Chomsky writes about specific human rights abuses, Graeber writes about what’s wrong with the rest of society—the part that we might like to assume functions normally.
He’s written ten books, and I’ve read four of them.
Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011)
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. You know that old economics textbook story about how before money, the economy was based on bartering? And it was such a hassle because if you needed shoes, for instance, you’d have to wait until you found someone willing to trade their shoes for your cow? Turns out that’s a lie. Graeber presents the actual origins of money, and how it slowly took over, in fascinating detail.
For a summary of the book, you can listen to him talk about it here: youtu.be/CZIINXhGDcs.
The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013)
Before I read this book, I sometimes wondered what ever happened to Occupy Wall Street. The official story is that it became a gathering place for the homeless and lazy, was disbanded due to sanitation concerns, and never got off the ground again. What really happened is shocking and infuriating. Occupy Wall Street didn’t run out of steam, it was forcibly shut down; and the only reason it doesn’t exist today is because our governments won’t allow it.
The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015)
This book is about why we spend so much of our lives on paperwork when we have the technological means not to. (I happen to find this stuff interesting, but if you don’t, you can safely skip this one.)
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2017)
For a quick version, read the essay that came before the book: On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant.
This guy, who’s also an anthropology professor at London School of Economics, has written about what’s wrong with our systems of money, democracy, bureaucracy, and employment. In other words, he has critiqued everything we take for granted in Western society. Please read immediately.
 He said “I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet [about things that are wrong]. The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say [without getting in trouble]. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work. You’d have to turn into Noam Chomsky.” From What You Can’t Say.
Leave a Reply