Coined: A book review by Bob Morris

CoinedCoined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us
Kabir Sehgal
Grand Central Publishing/Hatchette Book Group (2015)

A brilliant survey of the neuroscience of financial transactions throughout history

Kabir Sehgal is not a neuroscientist nor am I and countless others who read this book. Its subtitle refers to the rich history of “money” but I think a more appropriate word is “currency,” often — but not always — in the form of coins. Consider the ancient aphorism that, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Sight (albeit limited sight) is the coin of that realm. You get the idea.

Sehgal strategically inserts dozens of relevant quotations throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, including this gem from Voltaire: “It is more easy to write on money than obtain it; and those who gain it, jest much at those who only know how to write about it.” I have no ideas whether or not Sehgal has gained affluence but he can certainly write well when sharing his thoughts about “an ancient topic in new ways” while “hearing the different frequencies of money.”

He succeeds in achieving his stated objective: to present “a multidimensional and interdisciplinary portrait of currency through the ages. It seeks to deepen your understanding of the history of money, and to show how it continues to shape our future in often imperceptible ways. I hope this book will explode your perception of money, and help you coin new ways to think about it.” He certain gives his reader “new ways to think about it. These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Sehgal’s coverage:

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Sehgal’s coverage:

o The Currency of Nature (Pages 21-24)
o The Human Connection (24-29)
o Symbolically Thinking (34-37)
o Let’s Get Rational (42-47)
o Brain Man: Brian Knutson (55-63)
o In Brains We Trust (63-65)
o The Gift (75-83)
o Sinister Bonds (89-92)
o Silver Civilization (103-106)
o A Democracy of Owls (111-117)
o Dragon Money (133-139)
o All About the Benjamins (144-148)
o Getting Softer: The Civil War (148-150)
o Getting Softer: The Great Depression (151-153)
o To Invisible and Beyond 160-161)
o The Bear Cause (166-180)
o The Bull Case (180-189)
o No Two Masters (203-213)
o A Test of Man 216-220)
o Symbolic Attachment 225-226)

Readers will appreciate the abundance of information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume. Those who share my high regard for Coined are urged to check out two books by Peter Bernstein: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk and The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, in a second edition, both published by John Wiley & Sons (2012). Our ability to navigate an always-uncertain future depends almost entirely on how well we understand the nature and extent of forces that will guide and inform it, and in the process shape us.

These are among Kabir Sehgal’s concluding remarks: “Regardless of how we look at money, it stares back at us. But it isn’t waiting. It’s always moving, shifting, and encroaching on various parts of our lives, and we often don’t realize it. Only with deliberate reflection can we see how its history has shaped us, from helping to control or democratize a society, to obtaining the resources necessary to live. This symbol of value activates our minds, steers our bodies, and helps determine the fate of our souls.”

For reasons indicated, I think Coined is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

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