The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber

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The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity By David Graeber

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Book/Novel Author: David Graeber

Book/Novel Title: The Dawn of Everything

 

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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

Amazing revelations about the nature if democracy and governance among American Indians going back to 1500s, when many actually travelled to France and spoke perfect french as a result of French Jesuit missionaries being impressed with their eloquence. Their culture involved no private property or money, no judges or prisons but very effective societal morals enforced by penalties imposed on the families of perpetrators and not the perpetrators themselves. Reveals that a lot more civilization in America a century before 1620, primarily with France. Hence the alliance to fight British colonials in the French and Indian War.
This is a wonderful work in examining history from a global rather than a Eurocentric perspective. Every reading will teach you something new.
The PR about this book suggested it would set readers straight concerning the twisted accounts traditionally taught in the west about evolutionary theories of history–for example, that western civilization bestowed upon the native peoples of the world everything they needed to know about equality, governance, etc. Alas, this failed book is turgid, redundant, and self-regarding–in a word, “academic.” The authors had a rich story to tell, but they apparently could not manage to find an engaging narrative structure to tell that story. Instead, the book devolves into something akin to bickering at a university faculty meeting. I found it unreadable.
Atypically for me, I’m posting this review before I’ve completely finished the book. I’m not an academic, a philosopher or particularly knowledgeable about religion . . . just average, somewhat educated person. The value I see is that the authors challenge a lot of conventional thinking about the development of human societies. Their evidence is anecdotal, and they’ve chosen the anecdotes, of course. The two most important takeaways for me are first, let’s look at the facts, and second, we know very little about the development of human societies and will never know all the past. The authors’ approach and their way of thinking is what’s significant. That having been said, I am not finding the book an easy read, but rather a somewhat difficult “study.”
This is a challenging book to review. The fundamental idea of the book is so good but the execution is so flawed that it is alternately exhilarating and frustrating to read. I do believe that the authors started out with the best of intentions. They seek to use the latest developments in anthropology and archaeology to shed light on human behavior in the “in-between” periods and less closely observed places in the world. The authors quite consciously turn away from the march of monuments and kings that fill conventional histories and focus on eras different types of societies, that functioned communally, that de-emphasized hierarchical structures, existed and thrived. Arguments that de-emphasize the march of progress, the “inevitability” of agriculture, and the rise of power-centering states are all well taken. However, however, however. All of this is undermined by the authors’ blinkered, selective, and tedious arguments. The worst of it is their insistence on raising “straw man” arguments throughout, which they then dismiss. But no contemporary author is arguing that pre-agriculture human beings lived either in “Rousseauian bliss” or a “Hobbesian hellscape” and the authors’ insistence that some school of history is advancing such narratives only undermines their own credibility. Their highly selective use of the archeological record to advance the “surely must” or “it can reasonably be concluded” type arguments (while at the same time savaging the same types of speculation by others) renders doubtful large chunks of their analysis. Finally, the authors seem to be aware solely of three historical areas: pre-Columbian Americas, pre- and early agricultural societies, and colonial and post-colonial Europe. The whipsawing of perspectives resulting from the sudden shifts between these areas is as disconcerting as the complete absence of any meaningful discussion of Roman, Greek or Chinese civilizations. The text similarly lacks discussion of major texts of modern anthropology, claiming insights of other, better, anthropologists as its own while acknowledging their work only in passing. The social historians, Braudel and other writes of the Annales School, who had advanced similar but far superior, arguments are ignored entirely. This book has clearly meant a lot to a lot of people and the reasons for that are not hard to discern. But its fundamental flaws make it unreliable as a work of scholarship, even of the popular variety.

 

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