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The Dawn of Everything cover art

The Dawn of Everything

Written by: David Graeber,David Wengrow
Narrated by: Malk Williams
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Publisher's Summary

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 

Renowned activist and public intellectual David Graeber teams up with professor of comparative archaeology David Wengrow to deliver 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 only be achieved by sacrificing those original freedoms, or alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. Graeber and 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 path-breaking 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% 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? What was really happening during the periods that we usually describe as the emergence of "the state"? 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.

©2021 David Graeber, David Wengrow (P)2021 Signal

What the critics say

"This is not a book. This is an intellectual feast. There is not a single chapter that does not (playfully) disrupt well-seated intellectual beliefs. It is deep, effortlessly iconoclastic, factually rigorous, and pleasurable to read.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan)

“Synthesizing much recent scholarship, The Dawn of Everything briskly overthrows old and obsolete assumptions about the past, renews our intellectual and spiritual resources, and reveals, miraculously, the future as open-ended. It is the most bracing book I have read in recent years.” (Pankaj Mishra, author of The Age of Anger)

“Graeber and Wengrow have effectively overturned everything I ever thought about the history of the world. A thorough and elegant refutation of evolutionary theories of history, The Dawn of Everything introduces us to a world populated by smart, creative, complicated people who, for thousands of years, invented virtually every form of social organization imaginable and pursued freedom, knowledge, experimentation, and happiness way before ‘the Enlightenment.’ The authors don’t just debunk the myths; they give a thrilling intellectual history of how they came about, why they persist, and what it all means for the just future we hope to create. The most profound and exciting book I’ve read in thirty years.” (Robin D. G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History at UCLA and author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination)

What listeners say about The Dawn of Everything

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Being Critical of Assumptions

I can't stop thinking about this book. It was surprisingly global in its coverage (not too many historical texts reference the Inuit from Labrador). There are FOUR take-aways for me:

1. Our knowledge of prehistory was shaped, incorrectly, by 18th century French philosophers (namely Rousseau).

2. Human prehistory is not a series of progressive steps. Our collective story is much more complex. Ancient thinkers and even engineers had shockingly outstanding methods, ideas, techniques, and knowledge.

3. The Age of Enlightenment may very well have been based on American First Nations culture. We must not forget the timeline here (The Age of Enlightenment came after our contact with American First Nations).

4. Nearly all ancient cultures viewed social constructs as temporary. If a social system failed them, they walked away from it. We used to be able to construct a social system to accomplish a task, then abandon it. That's no longer the case.

The text even shakes my, perhaps naive, faith in our western institutions. Are we currently locked into a system that could be better?

The book is written by outstanding thinkers and they have done their homework.

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6 people found this helpful

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Not great but decent

Here's some context on my opinion: I have a Bachelor's in History, I've read Sapiens, and Guns, Germs and Steel. I am at best, an amateur historian. Honestly, this book was difficult to get through but at the same time it made good points. Here's my breakdown:

Good points made:
-Societies in the past have been very flexible in their structure and just because the style of the "West" "won" doesn't mean it was the best
-Pre-Colonial societies weren't "primitive," some where very complex and people were much more "free" than they were in Europe
-The Enlightenment could very well have been strongly influenced and started by the Indian critiques of European society
-around 9000BC, humans likely participated in "play farming" which is farming but not changing their lifestyle completely to be dependent on those crops

Cons:
-The book did not need to be 24 hours. It could have said the same in 9. The writing dragged on so much and it got way too caught in the details. This was almost the first audible book I didn't finish because it was so long-winded.
-It made some straw-man arguments to try to prove its point

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4 people found this helpful

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Wonderful!

An enjoyable journey through the origins of our origins. Highly recommended for those who are curious about how we have come to be and the systems that govern our species.

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Dreadful

So dreadfully disappointed in this piece of junk. He makes an assumption and never defends or proves it. He just blathers on and on about the supposed biases of western intellectuals and how they never ever how could possibly credit that indigenous civilizations have any sophistication whatsoever. Which is so ridiculous that made me stop reading. I'm very very angry about this

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The pronunciation of the performer is horrible

It's hard to keep up with the many authors the authors mention due to the poor performance of the person reading the book.

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Wondering what’s next

This is a unique and thoughtful approach to the history of humanity. It is a much needed approach as we find our way forward locally and globally.

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Very insightful

The critique of western assumptions about social development was thought provoking. Enjoyed the diverse examples that the authors referenced.

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Thought provoking

I’m not sure I agree with every idea proposed, and I have suspicions about s few, but the boldness displayed, the quality of the writing, the breadth of subject and the fascinating nature of the accusations levelled at the ‘social sciences’ deserves attention. Incredibly fascinating.

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Intellectually invigorating and challenging my entire framework of history, Loved it!

I feel like I’ve come through a transformative process of enlightenment regarding my notions of human social potential, of history and anthropology and in particular my understanding of both historic and current indigenous-settler colonial relations. The huge scope and breadth that this book covers coupled with the minute detail and shocking discoveries to me of individual societies and places, even from my own region of the Pacific Northwest, was pretty mind blowing.

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  • jef
  • 2023-05-24

Interesting Listening

A challenging approach to the questions and answers that dominant the study of human history.

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