The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us

Book - 2015
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"The importance of money in our lives is readily apparent to everyone--rich, poor, and in between. However grudgingly, most of us accept the expression "Money makes the world go round" as a universal truth. We are all aware of the power of money--how it influences our moods, compels us to take risks, and serves as the yardstick of success in societies around the world. Yet because we take the daily reality of money so completely for granted, we seldom question how and why it has come to play such a central role in our lives. In Coined: The Rich Life of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us, author Kabir Sehgal casts aside our workaday assumptions about money and takes the reader on a global quest to uncover a deeper understanding of the relationship between money and humankind. More than a mere history of its subject, Coined probes the conceptual origins and evolution of money by examining it through the multiple lenses of disciplines as varied as biology, psychology, anthropology, and theology. Coined is not only a profoundly informative discussion of the concept of money, but it is also an endlessly fascinating and entertaining take on the nature of humanity and the inner workings of the mind. "-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 9781455578528
Characteristics: x, 317 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jun 26, 2019

This was a disappointment. By its title, it is obviously a book with a great breadth of scope for its 257 pages of narrative. However, every story that I already knew was arguable. This is a scissors-and-paste effort, quickly assembled without deep reflection, insight, or questioning.

As this is a book about the history of money, the origins of money are important. His narrative is incomplete, coming from secondary sources. Sehgal apparently failed to grasp the central facts of the event. The same is true for the invention of coinage. Sehgal does correctly understand the fact that seems curious to us today, that promissory money, “soft” money, preceded precious metals as hard money by thousands of years.

That said, the story of ancient Sumer and the creation of promissory notes (pg. 86) is wrong in so many details that it is wrong in substance. His deepest misunderstanding is the claim that clay balls containing tokens were a form of proto-currency (page 104). They may have been a harbinger or foreshadowing of that, but he completely misses the significance of the contemporaneous invention of writing. For the correct accounting see the works of University of Texas professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat.

On the invention of coinage, he again relies on secondary popularizations, rather than the best academic research. And he fails to ask delving questions. He claims (as many do) that coins were invented in Lydia before 630 BCE. But he also identifies the famous hoard of the oldest known coins and coin-like objects, from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Why were the oldest known coins and proto-coins not uncovered within the excavation of Sardis, the royal site of Lydia? Ephesus, Miletos, and Kolophon have been suggested as possible candidates for the first cities to strike coins, not for commerce, but as bonus payments to mercenaries.

He correctly identifies the fact that coinage is closely tied to the development of democracy, but he misplaces the origin of democracy at Athens. It does not get any better with his stories about Nero, Diocletian, Lincoln’s greenbacks, or Bretton Woods.

Dec 26, 2015

An okay read with a strong focus on coin collectors and the religious dimensions of money.


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