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Publisher's Summary

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 18th 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 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? 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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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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  • John Faithful Hamer
  • 2021-11-19

ALMOST INVARIABLY

To extinguish hope, proponents of fashionable forms of determinism need to circumscribe our sense of what’s possible. They need us to believe that biology—or geography, or history—is destiny. They need us to believe that struggling against things like, say, market forces, is about as silly and stupid as struggling against gravity. Just as the god-kings of the ancient world claimed that their rule was an inescapable feature of the nature of things, those who benefit mightily from the twenty-first-century status quo would have us believe that their rule is inevitable, and this is the best of all possible worlds.

David Graeber and David Wengrow’s new book should actually be called: Almost Inevitably: A New History of Humanity (2021). In part, this is because they use the phrase “almost invariably” far too often; but mostly because the book’s message is, at bottom, that although some things are almost invariably inevitable, few things are actually inevitable. We have considerable wiggle room. We can make choices. We’ve done so in the past and we can do so again in the future. In other words: Another World is Possible.

If the deterministic narratives popularized by grand theorists like Steven Pinker, Yuval Noah Harari, and Jared Diamond leave you cold, if they depress you, or enrage you, you will almost invariably love The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (2021).