A snappy course in the evolution of exchange.
Jenkins is thorough but not so thorough as to make the dismal science dismal to his readers. He offers lively explanations for barter, then refinements on the bartering system and the moment when parties agreed upon a medium of exchange: wampum, gemstones—and gold, in all its luster, its malleability, its exquisiteness. From there, he takes readers to weights and measures; banks, black markets and usury; interest earned and interest paid; inflation and deflation; crashes and runs on banks. Maybe because there has been enough already, Jenkins steers clear of loan-sharking and what happens when you can’t pay your debt. It’s all related in a simple, colloquial style that will keep readers engaged: “Wouldn’t it be handy if you could swap your goat for something easy to keep and carry around and that everybody wanted?” The text is urged along by the fine illustrations of Kitamura, which sometimes hint at the old Johnny Hart comic strip “B.C.,” with its touch of subversive humor. Jenkins closes with a caution: “[T]here’s a danger that you start believing that buying and selling are the only important things in life”—how many economics textbooks include that?
A thoughtful and entertaining story of how we got from trading a pig for a sack of rye to “Chapter Fifteen: In which we discover how easy it is for money to disappear.” (author’s note, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)