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The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

by David Graeber, David Wengrow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,827418,858 (4.13)1 / 36
History. Science. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:

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
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» See also 36 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (4)  Romanian (1)  Finnish (1)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
The title is no joke. The breadth and depth of this non-fiction work is stunning in its range and detail, about the origins, dietary decisions and political systems of societies as far back as 15,000 years. I never felt glad to put it down. I had read other books by David Graeber, which were gripping. This one exceeded my expectations, which had been high. It is one of those creations where I frequently wondered, "How did he learn this vast area and amount history, archeology & anthropology in one lifetime?" ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
Fascinating; highly recommend; upends so much of what I learned in school
( )
  pollycallahan | Jul 1, 2023 |
A good book, in my view, is one that, once I have read it and taken its concepts on board; I think them to be so obvious that any other view would be ridiculous but, I also know that I would never have been able to reach this perspective without the author's input.

This is a good book.

I am intrigued by tomes, such as this, which take views which are universally accepted and question them. Life is rarely as simple as unquestionable propositions suggest it should be. Graeber and Wengrow ask the age old question, "When did our societies fall from grace into the mess that they now are?*

Under normal circumstances, one of two answers are possible; firstly, one may suggest a time and/or place in history when the fall occurred, or secondly, deny that such a fall took place. What our authors do, is to show that we would be asking the wrong question. Human society is not that linear.

We are taken on a tour of pre-history; i.e. that time before copious written records provide strong clues as to what is occurring. We see that civilisations, or societies have developed through many different routes: that not all, by any means, have developed from free spirited to authoritarian in some essential form of progression and that the way things are now is neither the inexorable result of history or, necessarily, the final destination. We have the ability to live a different lifestyle. ( )
  the.ken.petersen | Jun 4, 2023 |
There's potential in the material. The authors do a service in letting us know about archeological discoveries of complex societies run on non-State lines. But its presentation here is marred by a prolix and overexcited style, flights of speculation, and half-baked theorization. I would prefer a more focused and detailed explanation of just what is being found out (like what "1491" did for the sophistication of pre-Columbian America).
1 vote fji65hj7 | May 14, 2023 |
This book ripped my mind apart and my understanding of what it is to be a human and put it back together in a way that makes me excited to be part of the species.

Many of us think that civilization works like this:
You start in wandering tribes, you hunt and gather at the whim of the environment, and then one day you invent agriculture. You start planting, taming nature, grow cities, empires, science, etc. We assume this is the one and only way civilization grows. Sure, the primitive hunting-gathering sounds good, but to have that, you'd have to give up science and art and progress in general. Sort of the same way you may envy the carefree life of a child, but you can't really go back to childhood. Civilization works the same way, right?

What if all the above was absolute total bullshit? What if, instead, during the colonial era, we came up with the above theory specifically so we can 'look down' on the natives that were being colonized? That way, even if it seemed like they had a better lifestyle, Europeans could reason that they were just in a more primitive stage of human social evolution.

It's hundreds of years later, but we still have some strong lingering pieces of the above argument in our collective psyche. If we find some skeleton of a human from 50000 years ago, we imagine they were basically animals howling at the moon and worshiping their own toes because they didn't know any better. If it turns out they also knew something about the motion of the stars, we write it off as a fun, weird quirk but it doesn't really change our overall view of howling savages.

The book opens more-or-less suggesting that the European enlightenment was actually a result of contact with Native American philosophers, learning their views on civilization and sending that back to Europe. At the end of the book, they circle back to this idea and show that the specific Native American civilizations that may have inspired the enlightenment probably did so because they lived through monarchies and inequalities, they had actually evolved philosophies and practices to guard against it [I'm digressing a bit but the whole thing is just that interesting!!]

What is a city, really? Why would people choose to not farm? How did egalitarian societies avoid having dynasties? All of these questions have been answered by our species many times before, but there are some very heavy biased blinders we have on that keep us from seeing those answers.

The point is this: Human civilization isn't a linear, inevitable march to hierarchy, wealth inequality, and toil. We could choose from zillions of social configurations that have been tried out in the past, tried out by humans that were every bit as thoughtful, deliberate, and civilized as we are today. With some of those colonial prejudices removed from our brains, we can actually learn from the past... and this book very meticulously burns through such prejudices until you truly are able to see humans from the past as amazing, clever, complex equals (not just in theory but from the bottom of your heart and mind, scooping out the prejudices you didn't even know were prejudices around the past).

The downside is it's about a billion pages long, and kind of feels like it meanders a lot, but it does take that large length to start internalizing the views the authors present.

Note:
I've read lots of critiques of this book and I think it's important to point out how I read it vs. how many critics seem to read it.

Many of the passages follow a formula like this (this is my own made-up example):

"Archeologists found a skeleton of a woman in XYZ-land with a little statue by her. They assume it was for fertility, but who's to say she wasn't the secretary of agriculture for the regional district? After all, tribe W in land ABC had women who decided ..."

Now, reading the above, you can interpret it in 1 of 2 ways.

1. The author is explicitly claiming this particular woman was potentially secretary of agriculture in XYZ-land
2. The author is giving an example of our biases and pointing out the general feasibility of a skeleton found actually being a 'modern' person and why that shouldn't be a far-fetched thought, even if he doesn't believe this *particular* skeleton has the particular role he implied

If you read this book as (1), then you'll encounter a lot of problems. Pretty much every critique I've read interprets this book as (1). They'll do a detailed 'take-down' of that specific burial site, why XYZ-land didn't have secretaries, etc. Sure, but (in my opinion) that wasn't the point the authors were making.

If you read it as (2), you'll get more profound realizations out of it. ( )
1 vote nimishg | Apr 12, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Graeberprimary authorall editionscalculated
David Wengrowmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Most of human history is irreparably lost to us.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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History. Science. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:

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

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