A follow-up to David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which has sold 100,000 copies for Melville House and been published in 26 foreign editions
Where does the desire for endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy come from? How did we come to spend so much of our time filling out forms?
To answer these questions, anthropologist David Graeber—one of the most prominent and provocative thinkers working today—takes a journey through ancient and modern history to trace the peculiar and fascinating evolution of bureaucracy over the ages.
He starts in the ancient world, looking at how early civilizations were organized and what traces early bureaucratic systems have left in the ethnographic literature. He then jets forward to the nineteenth century, where systems we can easily recognize as modern bureaucracies come into being. In some areas of life—like with the modern postal systems of Germany and France—these bureaucracies have brought tremendous efficiencies to modern life. But Graeber argues that there is a much darker side to modern bureaucracy that is rarely ever discussed. Indeed, in our own “utopia of rules,” freedom and technological innovation are often the casualties of systems that we only faintly understand.
Provocative and timely, the book is a powerful look and history of bureaucracy over the ages and its power in shaping the world of ideas.