David Orrell

David Orrell. Writer and Mathematician

The Evolution of Money

Evolution of Money

Evolution of Money Chinese edition


With Roman Chlupatý

Publishers: Columbia University Press (World English), Citic Press (China)

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Publisher's synopsis

The Evolution of Money is at once a fascinating history of currency as a medium of exchange and store of value in human society, and a systematic effort to advance a new theory of money to protect against another global downturn. Orrell and Chlupatý trace the tension between currency's real and abstract properties and its shift from virtual to physical forms and back.

The authors begin with the tablets of Mesopotamia that recorded debts between traders and with the state. These were later supplanted by the coin money that helped to propel the rise of Greece and Rome. From there, they follow the evolution of gold-backed currencies and the economic development of Victorian England in which monetary economics took shape. The book concludes in the digital era, with the rise of unregulated cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, and the opportunities they represent. Cryptocurrencies suggest money's virtual character is again asserting itself, making standard economic theories obsolete. Through its novel engagement with money's dual existence, this book offers the best approach to controlling the growth of these currencies and making the most of their potential.


The Evolution of Money is a masterpiece. It is rich in content, contains historical breath - from prehistory (Origins) to the future (Utopia) - and analytical depth. Perhaps most remarkably the authors have produced an economics book on money that is elegantly written. It is a work of great erudition that is mercifully free of jargon, sound bites or obfuscations. Why can't all economists write like this? While The Evolution of Money provides great knowledge, it also sounds an urgent alarm-bell. The system is unsustainable: in our relentless pursuit of monetary wealth, we are destroying environmental wealth and social wealth. The final chapter is a plea and provides a map on how to transform the paradigm whereby instead of humanity serving money, money will serve humanity!” Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Lausanne

“Even though money is something we all use, every day, talking about it, defining it and explaining it is an extremely arcane thing to do. The tone is important, and The Evolution of Money goes about its task in a readable, breezy style that doesn't go too far into being just glib.” Paul Vigna, coauthor of The Age of Cryptocurrency

“We may think we know what money is, but Orrell and Chlupatý prove that we don't. They take us on a rich and stimulating journey through history and various fields including economics, physics, philosophy, and psychology to reveal the complex nature of money - its 'quantum nature' consisting of both physical and virtual properties. The authors are at the very forefront of the economic revolution that they predict, leading us through a very enjoyable read that decodes what money is and what it is evolving to be.” Ted Cadsby, author of Closing the Mind Gap: Making Smarter Decisions in a Hypercomplex World

“Money, religion and government are the three ubiquitous and eternal human institutions. This important new book gives money a voice in the past, present and future of human history.” Parag Khanna, author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

“A must reading for those who want to understand how money plays an even more important role in an exponentially changing digital society.” Jan Muehlfeit, former Chairman for Europe, Microsoft

“These authors tackle two of the toughest questions in economics: What is money and why does it have value? They present an intriguing definition of money and theory of money's value. They write a long history of money, weaving in references to current issues and dilemmas facing our society.” Michael Kelly, Lafayette College


“Who would have thought of linking money and quantum physics? Well, Orrell and Chlupaty have done just that in The Evolution of Money, perhaps the best book on money I have ever read ... The authors have set themselves the dauntingly difficult task of explaining money, as it were, from the ground up, cutting the cant that has surrounded the subject for centuries. Blending a happy combination of skills and experience, they have recorded a satisfying and entertaining account of how money has impacted, of course, on economics, but no less on politics and society. But that is not the end of it. They make a persuasive case, at least to this reader's satisfaction, on how the evolution of money has tracked that of science ... A reasonable and benign dictator might demand that those engaged in activities relating to economic management should, as a condition of employment, be compelled to read The Evolution of Money and pass a written examination based on an understanding of its contents.” Colin Teese, former deputy secretary of the Australian Department of Trade, writing in News Weekly

“The Evolution of Money is a well-written book filled with historical vignettes and anecdotes ... The authors go beyond the usual descriptions of money by mainstream economists. Indeed, they rightly criticize mainstream economists for ignoring money, currency, and debt in traditional economic models ... The book does not pretend to be a politically neutral academic tome. Rather than a defect, this makes the book not only more entertaining but also more thought provoking ... Of particular interest are the book's descriptions and ruminations about various currency experiments and how money will continue to evolve in the future.” James Angel, Georgetown University. Angel, J. (2017). The Evolution of Money. By David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. x 309 pp. Figures, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $35.00. ISBN: 978-0-231-17372-8. Business History Review, 91(2), 397-399.

“The authors are eclectic and combine history with economics, and when they set out to define money in chapter 2, they argue with the passion of a philosopher, using the Pythagorean duality system as a starting point. In fact, this book does not require any prior knowledge in economics to be understood. It is chock-full of various interesting money-related historical titbits, and should be read by people with an interest in where money comes from, what role it plays in the modern global economy and what it may look like in our future.” Josip Lucev, Medunarodne studije [International Studies]16(1):107-114 (2016)

“The book is an excellent read, and challenges us to incorporate money more explicitly into our models of the world as a change agent rather than an accounting mechanism.” Bridget Rosewell, for Society Of Business Economists

“Offering an insightful look at the history of currency throughout civilization, The Evolution of Money shines a lights on how monetary systems function like religion and uncovers why economists continue to argue over its unique nature.” Blinkist's Favorite History Books from 2017

“A great book that informs, educates and is very more-ish.” Darren Ingram, Autamme.com

Articles and interviews

Read extract from Chapter 1

Do We Own Money, or Does Money Own Us? Markets, Numbers, and Prices (Extract), Evonomics, 23 April 2016.

A Quantum Theory of Money and Value, SSRN.

The true value of money, Adbusters 121, September 2015.

Interview with 99 Bitcoins, 27 August 2015.

A Quantum Theory of Money and Value, Bitcoin Magazine, August 2015.