cover image Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us

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

Kabir Sehgal. Grand Central, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7852-8

Investment banker Sehgal (Walk in My Shoes) undertakes a broad survey of topics connected (sometimes loosely) to money in its various functions as a medium of exchange, store of value, token of obligation, and even cultural artifact. Sehgal begins by reviewing fundamental biological exchanges such as the operation of mitochondria and the “evolution of cooperation,” before turning to the psychology of financial decision making and the “anthropology of debt,” the latter exemplified by elaborate Japanese conventions of gifts and social obligations. He examines competing historical views of money as “hard” or “soft” and their respective limitations and dangers, including the seductive, stimulative “alchemy” of expanding the money supply with soft money—which, unlike the hard variety, is not backed by an intrinsically valuable asset. He then looks at the future of money from alternately bearish and bullish points of view. Finally, Sehgal touches on money’s ethical aspects, and its artistic function in expressing national identity and aspirations. Sprinkled with light anecdotes and illustrations from the author’s global travels for his banking day job, the book, Sehgal concedes, “does not advance a grand theory.” Indeed, it would have been strengthened by greater integration of its disparate elements. Nevertheless, Sehgal may encourage the general reader to join him in thinking “about an ancient topic in new ways.” Agent: Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency. (Mar.)