Eddie Campbell mixes autobiography with documentary in this book about money. The first two thirds is biographical, commentary on various periods of his life when money played a significant part of forming and adapting the relationships he has with others.
Different people, argues Campbell, have different attitudes to money. When these aren’t completely compatible, it makes life very difficult and can put an intense strain on personal relationships.
Perhaps Campbell is working through some demons here, but by the end of the book, things don’t seem to have got much better.
The latter section is an exploration of the monetary system of a Pacific island called Yap. The inhabitants of the island used to use enormous stones, imported from a distant island, as their currency. These stones were too unwieldy to move around very much and, despite changing hands with some regularity, they generally stayed in the same place.
It’s an interesting essay on a weird currency but, apart from the fact that Eddie visits the island and is clearly fascinated by it, it’s largely disconnected from the personal nature of the rest of the book. It also goes on a bit, and doesn’t resolve anything. It sits in the book like a graphic textbook, a mini-lecture on an alternative, unwieldy form of cash.
This makes the book as a whole a balancing act that Campbell doesn’t quite pull off. Money is such a massive topic, and such a key element in our lives, that Campbell can’t do the subject justice with a few anecdotes and an exploratory poke around another culture’s monetary system. The book lacks focus and few conclusions are drawn, leaving this reader with an overwhelming feeling of ‘so what?’