September 3, 2020

On David Graeber


Brooklyn, September 2, 2020 — We are sad to announce the passing of our author David Graeber. He was 59 years old, and died yesterday in a hospital in Venice, Italy, although news reports have not yet disclosed a cause of death.

Melville House first worked with David when the company approached him about writing a book in response to the economic crash in late 2008. What was supposed to be a quick turnaround turned into bigger and bigger project that took years, until he eventually delivered a massive manuscript that would go on to become the definitive classic, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. (The original manuscript also had a sub-sub-title, “Or, Why You’re Losing Your House Now,” that was subsequently dropped.) 

Shortly after the book’s publication, David told us he couldn’t do a bookstore event one Saturday because he was part of a group that was going to do a sit-in on Wall Street. He shook his head and laughed as he told us. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be doing it on a Saturday—when Wall Street is closed!” he said. “But I’m in it now.”

Indeed he was, and the Occupy Wall Street movement would extend far beyond that initial Saturday, with the Graeber-coined slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” still resonating.

A few years later, when we observed David wrestling with the American health care system on behalf of his aging mother, we suggested another book to David on his experience fighting bureaucracy. This time, he delivered quickly, and we subsequently published The Utopia of Rulesanother book that shows the lasting power of his perceptions.

In that way, at least, his keen mind and caring spirit lives on, and we are proud and grateful to have worked with him.