FROZEN DESIRE: The Meaning of Money by James Buchan

FROZEN DESIRE: The Meaning of Money

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A discursive and idiosyncratic appreciation of currency, from British novelist and former Financial Times correspondent Buchan (High Latitudes, 1996, etc.), who, the subtitle notwithstanding, never manages to construe its many-splendored meanings. Drawing on a wealth of sources, the author offers hit-or-miss audits of the mediums of exchange humankind has used and abused down through the years. Characterizing money as ""incarnate desire"" (in the sense that takes individual wishes and transmits them to the wider world), he compares the dichotomous teachings of Jesus with those of Muslim prophets, who viewed the religious and socioeconomic spheres as an indivisible whole. Buchan goes on to assess the varied implications of coinage, the just-price construct of medieval theologians, the invention of double-entry bookkeeping by Fra Luca Pacioli, Europe's lust for precious metals in the Age of Discovery, and the emergence of bank notes (which undermined the sovereignty of monarchs). Covered as well are the fiscal discipline a gold standard imposes on spendthrift governments, the sundry roles played by money in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the latter-day ascendancy of creditors (including junk-bond king Michael Milken) over borrowers, and capital as the sine qua non of belligerencies ranging from revolutions through wars of conquest. At the close, however, Buchan abruptly changes course. In the stated hope that the Age of Money (like the Age of Faith before it) will soon draw to an end, he exits with an impassioned albeit unsubstantiated diatribe indicting money as the principal cause of environmental destruction, global warming, overdevelopment, perpetual conflict, and other ills to which modern civilization is heir. These often murky essays will add precious little to anyone's understanding of what makes the world go around.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"