by Jack Weatherford ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 1, 1997
An engagingly digressive audit of the mediums of exchange humankind has used and abused down through the years, from anthropologist Weatherford (Savages and Civilization, 1994, etc.). Drawing on a wealth of sources, the author divides the history of money into three distinct stages. The first dates back nearly three millennia to the creation of coins in ancient Lydia (modern Turkey), whose best-known ruler, Croesus, has become a byword for affluence. The monetary market system spawned by the invention of coins, which eliminated the need to weigh gold for every transaction, eventually spread around the world, in the process destroying great empires and fostering development of a democratic and prosperous ancient Greek civilization. The Renaissance proved another turning point, bringing with it banks, paper money, and allied innovations that put paid to feudalism, opened the way for industrial capitalism, and financed the art and scholarship of the era. On the eve of the 21st century, according to Weatherford, the Global Village is about to enter an era of electronic money, which promises to produce socioeconomic, political, and cultural changes every bit as convulsive as those that racked earlier epochs. Which is not to say that the author deals in either doom or gloom. He simply offers a guided tour of the past and provides plausible scenarios for the future. Weatherford also studs his accessible text with scholarly delights that afford welcome respites from straightforward accounts of ATMs, currency speculation, the gold standard, hyperinflation, near money (food stamps, for example), and rates of exchange. Cases in point range from an appreciation of Edward Bellamy's prediction of credit cards in his utopian novel Looking Backward (1888) through a discussion of the ways in which L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) made an allegorical case for bimetallism. An entertaining, on-the-money introduction to precisely what makes the world go 'round.
Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996
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