The Dawn of Everything

A New History of Humanity

Hardcover, 691 pages

English language

Published Oct. 18, 2021 by Signal.

4 stars (3 reviews)

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 …

1 edition

It matters what thoughts think

4 stars

A tale of two David's: Graeber's final book, co-authored with Wengrow, is an epic volume of archaeology and anthropology that decentres and challenges accepted patterns of western thought that many social scientists present as facts. In particular, the authors take aim at books like Sapiens by showing how they proliferate accepted but unproven myths about human behaviour without following the evidence. As a book of critique and challenge, it is funny, thoughtful, and sharp. Some of the ideas, such as that the European idea of democracy may have originated from colonised Native American cultures, are radical but well argued.

Despite this, there are some flaws. A couple of chapters run far too long with too much repetition, and the scope of societies that are used to construct the arguments is limited. Also, there is a repeated insistence of humanist thought, dismissing animal or nonhuman relationships as unrelated to the story. …

Didn't really work for me, I'm afraid...

4 stars

It feels odd giving anything but an enthusiastic review to a book co-authored by the late, great David Graeber, but I'm afraid this one didn't really work for me. In my (and perhaps the book's?) partial defence, the circumstances weren't ideal. I read it as an ebook (so hard to flip back to check on facts) and, what's more, as a library ebook (so with limited time to finish it). I also haven't really been firing on all cylinders over the break, so maybe that's part of the problem? Anyway, if you take all those mitigating factors away, what I think we're left with is a book that somewhat uncomfortably straddles an attempt to provide a comprehensive, but alternative, 'big history', with an attempt to advance a counter to the default assumption of a teleology of societal evolution, that holds that agriculture is inevitable (and so hunter-gatherers are really just …