The best books for illustrating how anthropology helps us understand the economy

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an economic anthropologist and teach classes and conduct research in this area. Economic anthropology is different from economics in that it questions many of the things that economics takes for granted. For example, most economists assume that allocating goods through the market by buying and selling is the best way to organize human communities. Economic anthropologists have shown, in contrast, that many societies have been organized according to other exchange principles. In fact, some of the oldest communities in the world, such as Sumer and Babylon, based their economies around elaborate systems of redistribution, in which every citizen was guaranteed food shares.

I wrote...

Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance

By Daromir Rudnyckyj,

Book cover of Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance

What is my book about?

Recent economic crises have made the centrality of debt, and the instability it creates, increasingly apparent. This realization has led to cries for change—yet there is little popular awareness of possible alternatives. Beyond Debt describes efforts to create a transnational economy free of debt. Based on field research in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj illustrates how the Malaysian state, led by the central bank, seeks to make the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur “the New York of the Muslim world”—the central node of global financial activity conducted in accordance with Islam. 

Beyond Debt shows how Islamic financial experts have undertaken ambitious experiments to create more stable economies and stronger social solidarities by facilitating risk – and profit-sharing, enhanced entrepreneurial skills, and more collaborative economic action.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Economy of Words: Communicative Imperatives in Central Banks

Daromir Rudnyckyj Why did I love this book?

Most of us think of economics and economic policy making the same way that we do about other scientific fields, such as physics or engineering. Like those sciences, economics uses numerical models and mathematical analysis to explain how the world works.

In contrast, this book reveals how economics is a very different kind of science from physics or engineering. Holmes shows how economists and economic policy-makers rely on language as much as, or even more than, numbers to achieve their desired policy goals. 

By Douglas R. Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Economy of Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Markets are artifacts of language - so Douglas R. Holmes argues in this deeply researched look at central banks and the people who run them. Working at the intersection of anthropology, linguistics, and economics, he shows how central bankers have been engaging in communicative experiments that predate the financial crisis and continue to be refined amid its unfolding turmoil - experiments that do not merely describe the economy, but actually create its distinctive features. Holmes examines the New York District Branch of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, Deutsche Bundesbank, and the Bank of England, among others, and shows…

Book cover of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

Daromir Rudnyckyj Why did I love this book?

We often think of national identity as fixed: one is either Canadian or American, British or Chinese, Australian or Indian. 

The Olympic games come along and people pick up a flag to which they apparently belong. In contrast, Ong shows how economic globalization—the integration of production systems, financial activities, and labour markets across national borders—has created a situation in which national belonging is far from fixed and is instead flexible.

She documents, on the one hand, how individuals strategically obtain citizenship from more than one country and use citizenship for goals both personal and economic. On the other hand, she also documents how nation-states are using flexible definitions of citizenship to foster their own ambitions for economic growth.  

By Aihwa Ong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flexible Citizenship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the cultural logics of human action and on economic and political processes within the Asia-Pacific, including the impact of these forces on women and family life.
Explaining how intensified travel, communications, and mass media have created a transnational Chinese public, Aihwa Ong argues that previous studies have mistakenly…

Book cover of Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution

Daromir Rudnyckyj Why did I love this book?

We often think that unemployed people are lazy or lack ambition. 

Ferguson shows how in certain parts of the world the problem is not indolence but the fact that there are simply not enough jobs for all those who need employment or would like to work. With the acceleration of automation, offshoring, and artificial intelligence this situation could become far worse and ultimately create a great deal of social and political instability. 

Ferguson documents how a number of states around the world have adopted universal basic income programs, in which poor people are provided funds by the government with no work requirements or other strings attached. The book shows how changing our thinking about the morality attached to work might actually create more stable societies.

By James Ferguson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Give a Man a Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Give a Man a Fish James Ferguson examines the rise of social welfare programs in southern Africa, in which states make cash payments to their low income citizens. More than thirty percent of South Africa's population receive such payments, even as pundits elsewhere proclaim the neoliberal death of the welfare state. These programs' successes at reducing poverty under conditions of mass unemployment, Ferguson argues, provide an opportunity for rethinking contemporary capitalism and for developing new forms of political mobilization. Interested in an emerging "politics of distribution," Ferguson shows how new demands for direct income payments (including so-called "basic income")…

Book cover of Best Practice: Management Consulting and the Ethics of Financialization in China

Daromir Rudnyckyj Why did I love this book?

China is often represented as very different from North Atlantic countries, such as the US or the UK. 

Some have argued that China’s phenomenal economic growth over the past three decades has often been attributed to its distinctive economic and labour practices. Kimberly Chong shows how instead Chinese corporations have made extensive use of techniques introduced by Western management consultants, firms like KPMG, Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., or McKinsey & Company. 

In so doing, she shows how local workplace norms and China’s national project of modernization have been reformed by management consulting firms. She also reveals some of the critical but unrecognized techniques that have enabled the remaking of society, such as the iPhone revolution. 

By Kimberly Chong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Best Practice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Best Practice Kimberly Chong provides an ethnography of a global management consultancy that has been hired by Chinese companies, including Chinese state-owned enterprises. She shows how consulting emerges as a crucial site for considering how corporate organization, employee performance, business ethics, and labor have been transformed under financialization. To date financialization has been examined using top-down approaches that portray the rise of finance as a new logic of economic accumulation. Best Practice, by contrast, focuses on the everyday practices and narratives through which companies become financialized. Effective management consultants, Chong finds, incorporate local workplace norms and assert their expertise…

Book cover of Money: The Unauthorized Biography

Daromir Rudnyckyj Why did I love this book?

Money is often thought of as a valuable thing, like gold or silver. 

This leads us to presume that it must be finite in quality due to its scarcity. Drawing on anthropological studies of objects such as Yap stones, massive stone disks found on a far-flung island in the Pacific Ocean.

Martin shows instead that money is not so much a thing but an abstract system for tracking who has what and who is entitled to what, similar to what the anthropologist Keith Hart has called a “memory bank.” By rethinking money along these lines, we might be able to rethink how we decide who gets what and who doesn’t get what in our communities.

By Felix Martin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Money as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From ancient currency to Adam Smith, from the gold standard to shadow banking and the Great Recession: a sweeping historical epic that traces the development and evolution of one of humankind’s greatest inventions.

What is money, and how does it work? In this tour de force of political, cultural and economic history, Felix Martin challenges nothing less than our conventional understanding of money. He describes how the Western idea of money emerged from interactions between Mesopotamia and ancient Greece and was shaped over the centuries by tensions between sovereigns and the emerging middle classes. He explores the extraordinary diversity of…

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Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

By Larry R. Frank Sr., Maxwell Limanowski (editor), Peter Sander (editor)

Book cover of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

Larry R. Frank Sr. Author Of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Father Grandfather Business founder Planner and thinker Income and longevity researcher

Larry's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

What are you trying to do with your money?

Few of us take the time to analyze our financial needs and goals to answer that pressing question. In Wealth Odyssey, author Larry R. Frank Sr. uses his extensive financial background to provide a universal road map that will help you determine the wealth you need to support your chosen lifestyle.

Frank discusses such topics as the wealth rule, the earning-spending-saving formula, using debt wisely, and 
risk management. 

Wealth Odyssey is authored to be timeless; it does not matter what the market has done, or will do. This is a practical, no-nonsense guide that will help you develop a personal definition of wealth and create an effective strategy for long-term financial success.

Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

By Larry R. Frank Sr., Maxwell Limanowski (editor), Peter Sander (editor)

What is this book about?

"Frank, a Certified Financial Planner in California, offers a concise, precise guide to "prudent thinking" about personal finances, along with simple tools to estimate how much is required for a comfortable retirement." "A sound guide designed to help people make sensible plans for a successful retirement" - Kirkus book review "First let me tell you Larry Frank knows his stuff. He has a procedure that many will find worth taking the time to implement.” " The book is full of good advice." - Armchair interviews "Larry Frank Sr, gives you a guidebook or "road map" for your financial goals or…

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