This book is an academically rich history of the role of money in society - particularly US society since the late 1800s. It begins, somewhat vehemently in establishing its credentials as an alternative way of looking at money. Cash isn't just a neutral medium of exchange; a medium that renders all human effort and interactions in mere dollar terms. Today this argument doesn't need to be made so forcefully, though I wonder if the author had a point to prove. She wrote this over several years in which Friedman economics was at its callous height. Today there is a richer body of work about the psychology of money - for example the studies on 'mental acounting' of Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky. But those authors are theoreticians. What Zelizer demonstrates through a startling degree of social research is that humans being humans, we have an extraordinary facility of earmarking money with specific social meanings. In your home you may well have a petty change dish for the parking meter money, a secret stash of emergency money and a piggy bank for the kids' savings. And because we attach different meanings to these different stashes, we treat them differently also. We operate each stash by different rules. Zelizer shows how household money (once the domain only of the husband - she cites a New York judge who find a woman guilty of theft for "stealing loose change" from her husband's trouser pockets) has changed, and how the rules have slowly though not easily altered also, as society has become more consumerist, and as gender roles have changed also. I found equally fascinating the description of the little white lies that husbands and wives tell, in order to keep a little extra "me money" outside of the household budget. This book totally gels with the findings I've seen in focus groups that I've run where I've found big ticket purchases have been less about the actual cost than about how husbands and wives (or partners) get what they want while trying not to rock the relationship boat. Zelizer's social history is fascinating to read. It is well footnoted (the references are copious): a book that makes pertinent points about the rich social dimension of cash. This is very interesting material and heartily recommend for researchers, for those in the finance sector and for anyone who wants to better understand the financial dynamic of their own relationships. It is a rewarding portrait of our society and the way we attempt to reconcile our rational and emotional selves.
Zelizer's follow-up volume is also well worth investigating: The Purchase of Intimacy