The best books that explore what money is, from beginning to Bitcoin

Frederick Kaufman Author Of The Money Plot: A History of Currency's Power to Enchant, Control, and Manipulate
By Frederick Kaufman

The Books I Picked & Why

The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

By Karl Polanyi

Book cover of The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

Why this book?

This book showed me the way to alternative understandings of money, from one culture to another, over vast periods of time and space. An extraordinary read. Polanyi influenced a little-known school of economics, yet one that is becoming more and more relevant as our understanding of money is transformed by alt- and cryptocurrencies.


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The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350

By Robert S. Lopez

Book cover of The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350

Why this book?

This is an academic book, but don’t let it scare you. As for me – it blew my mind! I had no idea of the level of economic sophistication and advance of Medieval Europe. Lopez explains in extraordinary detail the time period when our modern conception of money—as debt, as mortgage, as loans, and as an international object of commerce—was born.


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Rabbit Is Rich

By John Updike

Book cover of Rabbit Is Rich

Why this book?

This is a novel from the “go-go ‘80s,” and delivers an insight into the money culture of modern middle class America. It’s a deep, comedic, and sad story of marriage, sex, gold, and dollars. The subtle characterizations gave me a strong sense of the human side of money, its emotional weight and valence—indeed, its pathos.


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A Grammar of Motives

By Kenneth Burke

Book cover of A Grammar of Motives

Why this book?

This is one of those lost academic works of genius of the 1950s, in which Burke, an English Professor, uses the idea of “grammar” to explain the motivations of characters in dramatic situations. This book inspired me to write about money as a quite literal “plot”—a way people tell stories about themselves and the universe.


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The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600

By Alfred W. Crosby

Book cover of The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600

Why this book?

This is one of the most lucid explanations of our modern culture of numbers, and deals with topics ranging from music and architecture to, of course, money. It was the “big think” book that most inspired me to consider money not as something in and of itself, but as an artifact of a culture, transformed by time, place, and the genius of individuals.


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