A slim, sprightly, acerbic attack on capitalism's love affair with bureaucracy."
—Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing
“[The Utopia of Rules] should offer a challenge to us all. Should we just accept this bureaucracy as inevitable? Or is there a way to get rid of all those hours spent listening to bad call-centre music? Do policemen, academics, teachers and doctors really need to spend half their time filling in forms? Or can we imagine another world?"
—Gillian Tett, Financial Times
“Graeber wants us to unshackle ourselves from the limits imposed by bureaucracy, precisely so we can actually get down to openly and creatively arguing about our collective future. In other words, yelling at the book is not just part of the pleasure of reading it. It's part of the point."
“Graeber’s most interesting claim...is that our expressed hostility toward bureaucracy is at least partly disingenuous: that these thickets of rules and regulations are a source, to quote from his subtitle, of 'secret joys' for most of us."
—Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian (UK)
“Something like an intellectual hike led by an eccentric guide: a winding set of anecdotes, schematics, juxtapositions, and assertions... He is a master of opening up thought and stimulating debate."
“What intense pleasure this book gave me, despite the dull topic: bureaucracy.”
—Peter Richardson, The National Memo
“[A] fizzing, fabulous firecracker of a book… Our contemporary bureaucrats are revealed, in fact, as none other than you and me, forever administering and marketing ourselves."
—The Literary Review
“Anthropologist Graeber is one of our wildest thinkers (see Debt: The First 5,000 Years), and in this book, he takes on the topic of bureaucracy, arguing that what we think of as the root of our civilization — capitalism, technology, rules and regulations — may just be what’s keeping us in chains."
—Flavorwire, 10 Must Read Books for February
“Inspiring and full of surprising facts… This is ultimately a book about how the systems we invent come to appear natural. We treat our world as though it is a fact, but actually, we produce it. This is not a new idea, but it’s one of the most hopeful we’ve got. It opens the door to change.”
“A throughly argued, funny, and surprising new book."
—Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
“Persuasive... Graeber’s aim was to start a conversation on the boondoggles and benefits of bureaucracy. In that regard, he has ticked all the right boxes."
—The Observer (UK)
“Packed with provocative observations and left-field scholarship. Ranging from witty analysis of comic-book narratives to penetrating discussion of world-changing technologies that haven’t actually appeared, it demystifies some of the ruling shibboleths of our time. Modern bureaucracy embodies a view of the world as being essentially rational, but the roots of this vision, Graeber astutely observes, go all the way back to the ancient Pythagoreans."
—John Gray, The Guardian (UK)
“Admirable and convincing...In his irrepressible, ruminative way, Graeber stands in the comic tradition of Walt Whitman, archy and mehitabel and James Thurber. This is the chorus with which to laugh the trousers off corporate management."
—Times Higher Education (UK)
“Interrogates aspects of bureaucratic modernity that are normally unexamined causes of annoyance… Stylish and witty."
—Steven Poole, New Statesman (UK)
“Graeber is an American anthropologist with a winning combination of talents: he’s a startlingly original thinker...able to convey complicated ideas with wit and clarity."
—The Telegraph (UK)
“A sharp, oddly sympathetic and highly readable account of how big government works—or doesn’t work, depending on your point of view."
Praise for Debt: The First 5,000 Years:
“Written in a brash, engaging style, the book is also a philosophical inquiry into the nature of debt—where it came from and how it evolved.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“An absolutely indispensable—and enormous—treatise on the history of money and its relationship to inequality in society.”
—Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing
“[A]n engaging book. Part anthropological history and part provocative political argument, it’s a useful corrective to what passes for contemporary conversation about debt and the economy.”
—Jesse Singal, Boston Globe
“This timely and accessible book would appeal to any reader interested in the past and present culture surrounding debt, as well as broad-minded economists.”
This essay collection from anthropologist Graeber is an utterly fascinating study of bureaucracy's role in modern life. He grounds readers first in the institution's history and then in the corporatization of contemporary discourse, showing that bureaucracy is merely a substitute for state-sponsored violence. He highlights how, as countries are modernized, bureaucracies ostensibly displace the old elite, but in reality merely reemploy and rebrand them while seeking to justify their own existence. Finally, Graeber demonstrates how corporatization is killing innovation. His book argues that, despite all these failings, bureaucracy is intensely appealing to the human brain because it places structures, rituals, and rules over systems that can otherwise seem meaningless. As an example of its insidious appeal, Graeber points to how pop culture constantly positions characters functioning within bureaucracies as rebels, even as those characters continue to tacitly justify the institutions they seemingly rebel against (see: every cop show ever). Readers familiar with Graeber's work will know the caliber of discourse he brings to the table: not all of his thoughts are unique, but they are wonderfully presented and wholly accessible. This is a rare treat that will amuse as easily as it unsettles, as readers struggle to reframe their own perceptions and open their eyes to Graeber's insights. (Feb.)
Hate bureaucrats? Then stop supporting violent states.By Graeber's (Anthropology/ London School of Economics; Debt: The First 5,000 Years, 2011) account, the unbending single-mindedness of the bureaucratic is not "inherently stupid" but is instead a function of that violence: Bureaucratic procedures "are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence." Waiting in line at the DMV is, of course, better than being tortured in some dank basement. But what Graeber means by structural violence is a system "that ultimately rests on the threat of force," whether police officers, drill sergeants, tax auditors, or all the other agents who support a system that spies, cajoles and threatens—but that also makes it possible, he reminds us, for graduate students to read Foucault and think lofty thoughts. This complex of definitions lands Graeber squarely in the anarchist tradition, and though he layers contemporary anthropological theory into his analysis, he serves up a clear and generally jargon-free argument. Interestingly, he ventures, arguments against bureaucracy tend to come from the right wing and not the left because the right, at least, has a theory of what bureaucrats do, even if "the right-wing critique can be disposed of fairly quickly." The author's analysis of how bureaucracies form lacks historical depth but ranges widely across the modern stage, and it offers a critique that a good leftist can use without simply watering down what a rightist might say—including his elegant "iron law of liberalism," which holds that "any market force, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs." A sharp, oddly sympathetic and highly readable account of how big government works—or doesn't work, depending on your point of view.