Friday, October 24, 2014

My Review of 'The Social Life of Money' by Nigel Dodd

This review is on Amazon right here. If it truncates your blockchain please do pop over there and give it a thumbs up. Ta.

I’ve reviewed a lot of books on money.

But I’m not an academic. If you want an academic opinion on ‘The Social Life of Money’ there are plenty of endorsements from the most respected academics on the back cover of this book. And if the academic status of those positively reviewing a book is your criteria for judgement, the decision is an easy one. Keith Hart says its ‘the most comprehensive book on money’ he’s ever encountered.

So in this review, I wanted to find a way to evangelize about ‘The Social Life of Money’ that might appeal to those who either, don’t find the prospect of a treatise on theories and ideas about money that exciting, or perhaps, feel that there is little they could learn about money from an academic sociologist.

I offer you a five point evaluation that I hope will persuade you.

Firstly don’t expect answers. There is no final reveal. Dodd is firmer on what money is not, than what it is.

Secondly, this is a book of theory. It demands an imaginative reader. It brings together ideas on the nature of social reality with money that I’ve never read anywhere else. So at some point, regardless of your intellectual heritage, you will be challenged to imagine something new.

Thirdly, despite the well-deserved high praise for the clarity and skill with which Dodd writes, reading it demands attention. It’s not going to be easy, so be prepared.

Fourthly. This is tricky. I’ve read and reviewed Dodd’s first money book ‘The Sociology of Money’ (1994) and his journal articles on money. And of course this book. What fires me up about his work - and this is very evident in the ‘Social Life of Money’ - is his focus on questions of money and epistemology, and money and ontology. Money is a difficult subject for lots of reasons. But one crucial one is that the very tools we use to examine, measure and build a picture of our universe are born of money. So when we use them on money, we are turning them in on themselves. What we see is a reflection. Dodd understood this really early on. And so, over time he has been able to journey outside this hall of mirrors. The Social Life of Money is his best description of his view from outside. With him, we can see how knowledge and money are intertwined, and glimpse through this something deeper about its nature.

Fifth and finally. Vital to the book is the way Dodd thematically breaks it into chapters. There’s little point in me listing out those themes here. They only really make sense after you’ve read it. Don’t expect a text book - that’s not what this is. Rather what the themes do is create an organic taxonomy for money and perhaps, a new way of ordering our thoughts about it.

I can’t bring myself to say this is the best book on money yet written. That would somehow put it above Marc Shell’s ‘The Economy of Literature’, James Buchan’s ‘Frozen Desire’ as well as Keynes, Marx, etc and of course above Georg Simmel’s classic ‘The Philosophy of Money’. That wouldn’t feel right, of course. But what I can say is that if we were in a library with every book on money that had ever been written and you asked me which one you should read first, I’d say ‘The Social Life of Money’ by Nigel Dodd.

It’s that good.

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