The cultural historian and author of Keep Watching analyses American ideas about race, money, identity, and their surprising connections through history.
From colonial history to the present, Americans have passionately, even violently, debated the nature and of money. Is it a symbol of the value of human work and creativity, or a symbol of some natural, intrinsic value? In Face Value, Michael O'Malley provides a penetrating historical analysis of American thinking about money and the ways that this ambivalence intertwines with race. Like race, money is bound up in questions of identity and worth, each a kind of shorthand for the different values of two similar things. O'Malley illuminates how these two socially constructed hierarchies are deeply rooted in American anxieties about authenticity and difference. In this compelling work of cultural history, O'Malley interprets a wide array of historical sources to evaluate competing ideas about monetary value and social distinctions. More than just a history, Face Value offers a new way of thinking about the present culture of coded racism, gold fetishism, and economic uncertainty.
"This is a 'big idea' book that no one but Michael O'Malley could even have thought of—much less pulled off with such nuance and clarity."—Scott A. Sandage, author of Born Losers