Features of The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber PDF
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.The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber PDF
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 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 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? 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.
A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Description of The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber PDF
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David Rolfe Graeber (/ˈɡreɪbər/; February 12, 1961 – September 2, 2020) was an American anthropologist and anarchist activist. His influential work in economic anthropology, particularly his books Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) and Bullshit Jobs (2018), and his leading role in the Occupy movement, earned him recognition as one of the foremost anthropologists and left-wing thinkers of his time
Born in New York to a working-class Jewish family, Graeber studied at Purchase College and the University of Chicago, where he conducted ethnographic research in Madagascar under Marshall Sahlins and obtained his doctorate in 1996. He was an assistant professor at Yale University from 1998 to 2005, when the university controversially decided not to renew his contract before he was eligible for tenure. Unable to secure another position in the United States, he entered an “academic exile” in England, where he was a lecturer and reader at Goldsmiths’ College from 2008 to 2013, and a professor at the London School of Economics from 2013.
In his early scholarship, Graeber specialized in theories of value (Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, 2002), social hierarchy and political power (Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, 2004, Possibilities, 2007, On Kings, 2017), and the ethnography of Madagascar (Lost People, 2007). In the 2010s he turned to historical anthropology, producing his best-known book, Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011), an exploration of the historical relationship between debt and social institutions, as well as a series of essays on the origins of social inequality in prehistory. In parallel, he developed critiques of bureaucracy and managerialism in contemporary capitalism, published in The Utopia of Rules (2015) and Bullshit Jobs (2018). He coined the concept of bullshit jobs in a 2013 essay that explored the proliferation of “paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence”
Although exposed to radical left politics from a young age, Graeber’s direct involvement in activism began with the global justice movement of the 1990s. He attended protests against the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001 and the World Economic Forum in New York in 2002, and later wrote an ethnography of the movement, Direct Action (2009). In 2011, he became well known as one of the leading figures of Occupy Wall Street and is credited with coining the slogan “We are the 99%”. His later activism included interventions in support of the Rojava revolution in Syria, the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and Extinction Rebellion.
Graeber was married to artist Nika Dubrovsky. He died unexpectedly in September 2020, while on vacation in Venice. His last book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, co-written with archaeologist David Wengrow, was published posthumously in 2021
Dimensions and Characteristics of The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber PDF
|Listening Length||24 hours and 2 minutes|
|Author||David Graeber, David Wengrow|
|Audible.com Release Date||November 09, 2021|
November 16, 2021
First off, let me say something about myself by way of establishing why anybody shopping on should care what I think about this book. I am an archaeologist and a published author on several of the issues that Graeber and Wengrow address. My work (with colleagues and collaborators) is cited in this book’s extensive (and comprehensive) bibliography. So: allowing that this is the reviews section of and not American Antiquity where reviews come with their own bibliography, I can speak to how well this book holds up to being read by a subject matter expert.
And it’s thrilling. It’s empirically rigorous despite the breezy (often funny, sometimes scorching) tone. And I hope it shatters the existing view of prehistory in the popular imagination, because Graeber and Wengrow are categorically right that said view is factually wrong, politically disastrous, and astonishingly boring.
The way I see it, this book is tackling two necessarily interrelated projects at the same time. First, it marshals mountains of evidence from all over the world and all periods of time to make the argument that from the very beginning—ca. 300,000 years ago—human beings have lived together in an astonishing variety of arrangements and that none of those arrangements has any single point of origin, or single scalar or economic correlate: tiny hunter-gatherer bands can be fastidiously democratic or violently authoritarian; industrial cities have existed at the heart of empires and in the total absence of sovereign government altogether. These societies have been peaceful and violent; patriarchal and matriarchal; slaveholding and abolitionist. Many societies have deliberately and self-consciously moved between different forms of social and political organization at different times of year, or deliberately reoriented themselves toward another way of living in the space of a generation or two. In other words, the human career has been marked by an extraordinary variety of political and social possibilities that most modern people not only don’t KNOW about, but do not IMAGINE to be possible.
And so the second project Graeber and Wengrow take on with this book is to reconstruct how we came to be so intellectually shackled as to think that many of the ways people have organized themselves are not only unusual or hard to achieve or whatever—but actually not even possible at all (they implicitly invoke Ostrom’s Law: “what’s possible in practice must be possible in theory,” and illustrate how prevailing theories of human’s history run afoul of it). They trace the history of thought that elevated a completely unscientific set of Enlightenment origin myths (Hobbes’s bit about life before the state being “nasty, brutish, and short,” and Rousseau’s about the idyllic pre-agricultural “state of nature”) to the scientific canon. And they counter by saying, in essence, that both of these ideas are testable scientific hypotheses, and they are both demonstrably and catastrophically wrong.
What that should make clear is that any claim that this book is romantic—or, as an earlier reviewer said, “woke revisionism” (that person went on to invoke Ye Olde “days of kings and serfs,” and the “way our ancestors actually lived,” which is an interesting way of establishing authority by demonstrating total lack of subject knowledge. But I digress—has not actually read the book. This book abounds with examples of all sorts of human unpleasantness, along with all sorts of social wonders. That is, in fact, the point: Graeber and Wengrow demonstrate that ancient and non-western societies obey no evolutionary taxonomy, no linear moral or organizational trajectory. Rather they demonstrate that people have always made choices about how to live together, that some of those choices have had better or more durable consequences than others, and that by telling ourselves a simplistic and teleological myth about the relationship between political organization and economic organization or social scale, we have dramatically limited our ability to imagine better ways of doing things.
To my enormous frustration, reviews of this book in major outlets (notably the NYT) have rhetorically asked “how can we know whether all of the facts presented in this book are true?” but never actually bothered to ask anyone qualified to answer that question.
(They have instead played up a silly and minor flap about a single claim early in the book, which is easily resolved if you understand the difference between reading an entire document and reading its abstract. It isn’t my turf, but Wengrow’s comments on the matter thoroughly convinced me. Emily Kern has a whole section on this in her excellent review of TDoE for Boston Review.)
So let me do so: In all the areas directly touched by my expertise, this book gets it right. So much so that most of the material they survey is in no way “revolutionary”: these are things that have been fixtures of archaeology courses for decades, and they are not controversial. That Poverty Point was a vast, monumental building project carried out by hunter-gatherers who did not permanently live on-site is not something new: it is the reason Poverty Point is a world heritage site (and if you don’t have much patience, the world expert on Poverty Point, T.R. Kidder, has a great YouTube video where the whole argument is laid out with cartoons). That Tlaxcallan in 16th Century Mexico was a republic is not new, or revisionist, or “woke”: Cortez literally calls it a republic in his letter to the king of Spain, and more recent archaeological and ethnohistoric research published in major journals has borne this observation out.
What is novel and revolutionary about this book is not the evidence it presents, but rather the coherent argument it makes about the diversity of social and political life across the sweep of the human story.
Synthesis is a process of simplification, and so any synthetic work necessarily simplifies and condenses the source material in the service of a larger argument. Graeber and Wengrow of course do that here, and there is no reason to fault them for it. Where they address the things I have published on, they demonstrate far better respect for and command of the published literature than other big syntheses published by non-anthropologists (which makes sense; they actually know this literature because they’ve spent decades immersed in it). They cite everything I would have hoped for a big synthetic treatment to cite, and then some. Their reading of the literature in fast-moving subfields is extremely current. Glancing through the acknowledgements, it is clear that they enlisted the very experts I would have pointed them to as guides to some of the case studies that emerge as particularly important in their book, like Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. The Dawn of Everything By David Graeber PDF
So while they may simplify and sometimes offer interpretations that are a little bit out of the mainstream, they do not misrepresent and their interpretations are still well-constrained by the evidence. Which brings me to another important point:
“Speculative.” When archaeology challenges a particular cherished origin story (like this one, my favorite: “women like to shop because they instinctively want to gather berries, since back in cave man days…”), the inevitable rejoinder is that archaeology is speculative, so people can go on believing whatever they want about the past. Again, a lot of major media reviews have lobbed The S Word, without referring to a single archaeologist for comment. This is crap. Archaeology is not speculative. Archaeological interpretations are constrained by evidence, and the more evidence one has the fewer and fewer viable interpretations of that evidence there are. That multiple hypothesis can remain viable despite evidence at hand does not render a science speculative: it makes it a science, one whose precision at describing reality improves with time. And so anybody who comes out and says “this is all really speculative, so I’m going to stick with Hobbes” has no concept of how science works, or of just how much archaeologists know about the ancient world. This book is imaginative—a high compliment—but not speculative. There is a difference.
In sum: This is a really, really good book. You should read it.
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