Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Review of Keith Hart's Money in an Unequal World

My review of Keith Hart's Money in an Unequal World is here on Amazon. As always, please pop over and have a look and tickle my ego little with a 'like' if you think I deserve it.

I'm sorry there is no ramble on it. Its certainly worthy of one, but I left it too long between the reading of it and the writing of the ramble.

Here's the review:

"This is a book that doesn't really work. It's not without merit, and it's author is clearly a successful and knowledgeable scholar but his attempt to write this book 'from memory' falls down in the areas one might expect. It is a rambling treatise on the unfairness of the moneyed world; sometimes engaged with political and social thinkers, sometimes with anecdotes from the author's life. It feels very much like an extended 'off the cuff' lecture. As informal lectures tend to, Keith focuses attention on people and theories which have recently fallen under his gaze. Hence, John Locke whom Keith says he was 'discovering' whilst writing the book, receives more attention than he otherwise might.

However, you can't help but like Keith. Even though he sometimes leaves you frustrated - he tells a story about being arrested by the Ghanaian police for being a 'fence' and then stops without saying how it spanned out - it's clear that this is an academic who has lived in the real world. In fact, in my view the book would have benefited from a re-balancing in favour of the anecdotal and personal, and away from the theoretical and academic. There are plenty of other places to find expositions of sociological and anthropological thought on economy. This book ends up being neither one thing nor the other. It's a close call though. You do feel that if he could have linked his personal stories to the theories of money more effectively this book may have been sitting on as many bookshelves as Graeber's debt - and perhaps, given its more personal nature, been even more widely read.

In the final analysis the book failed to convince me of Keith's central idea that money is memory. Indeed, I think adhering to this idea may have hampered his writing somewhat. Money is tricky to pin down.

Nevertheless I still feel a little mean just giving it 3 stars. The expositions of theory are clearly written. The 'guides to further reading' which appear at the end of each chapter and include brief comments from Keith on the merits of the works cited are particularly useful. And Keith's encyclopedic knowledge and the huge area he covers in the 320 odd pages are bound to reveal something new to you - for me it was Weber's work on money. Nevertheless, there is a sense of 'an opportunity lost' with this book. And ultimately that was the feeling that remained with me after reading. When describing his childhood experiences living near Old Trafford, Keith creates an expectation of deep insight with lines like 'the unified roar of fifty thousand men was truly bestial, a reminder to women and children alike of what raw collective male power can be.' Or, his descriptions of how, as a child, he gained his understanding of money through his trips to the local sweet shop. The expectation is for a truly insightful and profound book on money that delves deeply into Keith's own psyche, and thereby mirrors our own relationship to money. Unfortunately with this particular book he failed to deliver on that promise.

There is a sad personal tale in the writing of the book, too. With the original manuscript nearly complete Keith's laptop was stolen and never recovered. It was the only copy. Hence, the idea of 'writing from memory' - especially when combined with his central idea that Money is a form of memory - seemed a natural and practical solution. It's a shame it didn't really work. I hope he tries again."

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