In his most widely appealing book yet, one of today's leading authors of popular anthropology looks at the intriguing history and peculiar nature of money, tracing our relationship with it from the time when primitive men exchanged cowrie shells to the imminent arrival of the all-purpose electronic cash card. 320 pp. Author tour. National radio publicity. 25,000 print.
Weatherford brings a cultural anthropologist's wide-angled perspective to this illuminating investigation of money's role in shaping human affairs. He identifies three great mutations in the story of money. The first began with the invention of coins in the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia 3000 years ago, sparking a monetary revolution that underpinned classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Next, family-owned, credit-giving banks of Renaissance Italy ushered in the modern world capitalist system, which swept away feudalism and abetted the expansion of European hegemony to the Americas. In the third major transition, predicts Weatherford (Savages and Civilization), the current age of paper money will give way to an era of cybermoney, or electronic cash, in which transactions are conducted via the Internet and by other forms of electronic transfer. Full of forgotten lore and provocative opinions (e.g., harmful inflation is identified as the dominant monetary theme of our century), and sprinkled with allusions to Voltaire, Goethe, L. Frank Baum and Gertrude Stein, this intriguing selective survey will captivate even readers with no particular yen for financial knowledge. (Feb.)