The dawn of everything A new history of humanity

David Graeber

Book - 2021

"A trailblazing account of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution-from the development of agriculture and cities to the emergence of "the state," political violence, and social inequality-and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation. For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike--either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacri...ficing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself. Drawing on pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what's really there. If humans did not spend 95 percent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of human history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful, hopeful possibilities, than we tend to assume. The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society."--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2021.
Edition
First American edition
Language
English
Item Description
"Originally published in 2021 by Allen Lane, Great Britain"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xii, 692 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 611-673) and index.
ISBN
9780374157357
0374157359
Main Author
David Graeber (author)
Other Authors
D. Wengrow (author)
  • Farewell to humanity's childhood, Or, why this is not a book about the origins of inequality
  • Wicked liberty: The indigenous critique and the myth of progress
  • Unfreezing the Ice Age: In and out of chains: the protean possibilities of human politics
  • Free people, the origin of cultures, and the advent of private property (not necessarily in that order)
  • Many seasons ago: Why Canadian foragers kept slaves and their Californian neighbours didn't; or, the problem with 'modes of production'
  • Gardens of Adonis: The revolution that never happened: how Neolithic peoples avoided agriculture
  • The ecology of freedom: How farming first hopped, stumbled and bluffed its way around the world
  • Imaginary cities: Eurasia's first urbanites
  • in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Ukraine and China
  • and how they built cities without kings
  • Hiding in plain sight: The indigenous origins of social housing and democracy in the Americas
  • Why the state has no origin: The humble beginnings of sovereignty, bureaucracy, and politics
  • Full circle: On the historical foundations of the indigenous critique
  • Conclusion: The dawn of everything.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

For centuries, history—at least as told by the West—has portrayed humanity's early ancestors as either wide-eyed innocents or nasty brutes, with both needing correction if society were to flourish. But with current challenges to Eurocentrism, that view is getting a makeover. Here, the recently deceased Graeber (anthropology, London School of Economics) and Wengrow (comparative archaeology, University College London) argue that in the 18th century, Europeans took exception to criticism directed at them by non-Europeans and concocted a self-serving story. So what really happened? The authors have some ideas. With a 75,000-copy first printing; note that Graeber, who was a caustic critic of economic and social inequality, is credited with coining the slogan "We are the 99 Percent." Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Wengrow (archaeology, Univ. Coll. London) and the late Graeber (anthropology, London Sch. of Economics) successfully disrupt the story popularly believed about the rise of civilization: starting from small bands of peaceful hunter-gatherers, an agricultural revolution led to cities, which led to hierarchy and eventually the modern nation-state, where technological progress is bought at the cost of liberty and equality. Instead, they decentralize these founding mythologies of Western culture by examining Indigenous counterexamples from around the globe, spanning the Neolithic period to today. By synthesizing modern evidence from their two disciplines, they demonstrate that societies have been much more flexible, diverse, and creative in their social structures, adapting and reacting to their physical environs, their values, and their neighbors, and not merely constrained by technological or economic efficiencies. Asking questions about the origins of inequality or of the state requires defining those terms, and it quickly becomes obvious that there is no all-encompassing definition of either, and no inevitable social or political arrangement that history is guiding us toward. VERDICT This well-reasoned survey of anthropological history should intrigue historians, social activists, and fans of Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens or Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.— Wade Lee-Smith, Univ. of Toledo Lib. Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

The transition from hunter-gatherer life to agriculture, urbanism, and civilization saw a blossoming of egalitarian politics and social order, according to this sweeping manifesto. Surveying 26,000-year-old European graves, Stone Age Turkish towns, the musings of 17th-century Iroquois philosophers, and more, archaeologist Wengrow (What Makes Civilization?) and anthropologist Graeber (Debt), who died last year, critique conventional theories of historical development. Far from simplistic savages living in a state of "childlike innocence," they argue, hunter-gatherers could be sophisticated thinkers with diverse economies and sizable towns; moreover, agriculture and urbanism did not necessarily birth private property, class hierarchies, and authoritarian government, they contend, since many early farming societies and cities were egalitarian and democratic. Vast in scope and dazzling in erudite detail, the book seethes with intriguing ideas; unfortunately, though, the authors' habitual overgeneralizations—"one cannot even say that medieval thinkers rejected the notion of social equality: the idea that it might exist seems never to have occurred to them"—undermine confidence in their method of grand speculation from tenuous evidence. (For example, they see "evidence for the world's first documented social revolution" in the damaged condition of elite habitations in the 4,000-year-old ruins of the Chinese city of Taosi.) Readers will find this stimulating and provocative, but not entirely convincing. (Nov.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An activist and public intellectual teams up with a professor of comparative archaeology to deliver an account of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the emergence of "the state," political violence and social inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A trailblazing account of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution-from the development of agriculture and cities to the emergence of "the state," political violence, and social inequality-and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike—either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself.Drawing on pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what’s really there. If humans did not spend 95 percent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of human history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful, hopeful possibilities, than we tend to assume.The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision, and a faith in the power of direct action.Includes Black-and-White Illustrations