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The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity Hardcover – 9 November 2021
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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.
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Graeber and Wengrow offer a history of the past 30,000 years that is not only wildly different from anything we're used to, but also far more interesting: textured, surprising, paradoxical, inspiring . . . It aims to replace the dominant grand narrative of history not with another of its own devising, but with the outline of a picture, only just becoming visible, of a human past replete with political experiment and creativity.
--William Deresiewicz, The Atlantic
[An] iconoclastic and irreverent new book . . . an exhilarating read.
--David Priestland, The Guardian (UK)
An instant classic . . . Fatalistic sentiments about human nature melt away upon turning the pages . . . [The Dawn of Everything] sits in a different class to all the other volumes on world history we are accustomed to reading . . . If comparisons must be made, they should be made with works of similar caliber in other fields, most credibly, I venture, with the works of Galileo or Darwin. Graeber and Wengrow do to human history what the first two did to astronomy and biology respectively.
--Giulio Ongaro, Jacobin
A boldly ambitious work that seems intent to attack received wisdoms and myths on almost every one of its nearly 700 absorbing pages . . . entertaining and thought-provoking . . . an impressively large undertaking that succeeds in making us reconsider not just the remote past but also the too-close-to-see present, as well as the common thread that is our shifting and elusive nature.
--Andrew Anthony, The Observer (UK)
The Dawn of Everything is a lively, and often very funny, anarchist project that aspires to enlarge our political imagination by revitalizing the possibilities of the distant past . . . It disavows the intellectual trappings of a knowable arc, a linear structure, and internal necessity. As a stab at grandeur stripped of grandiosity, the book rejects the logic of technological or ecological determinism, structuring its narrative around our ancestors' improvisatory responses to the challenges of happenstance.
--Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker
[The Dawn of Everything] took as its immodest goal nothing less than upending everything we think we know about the origins and evolution of human societies . . . [the book] aims to synthesize new archaeological discoveries of recent decades that haven't made it out of specialist journals and into public consciousness.
--Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times
A fascinating, radical, and playful entry into a seemingly exhaustively well-trodden genre, the grand evolutionary history of humanity. It seeks nothing less than to completely upend the terms on which the Standard Narrative rests . . . erudite, compelling, generative, and frequently remarkably funny . . . once you start thinking like Graeber and Wengrow, it's difficult to stop.
--Emily M. Kern, Boston Review
Our forebears crafted their societies intentionally and intelligently: This is the fundamental, electrifying insight of The Dawn of Everything. It's a book that refuses to dismiss long-ago peoples as corks floating on the waves of prehistory. Instead, it treats them as reflective political thinkers from whom we might learn something.
--Daniel Immerwahr, The Nation
The Dawn of Everything is an upbeat book . . . Prehistory, Graeber and Wengrow insist, is vastly more interesting than scholars knew until recently. And not just more interesting, but more inspiring as well . . . this book testifies to David Graeber's admirable energy, imagination, and love of freedom.
--George Scialabba, The New Republic
The book's 704 pages teem with possibilities. They are a testament, in the authors' view, to human agency and invention -- a capacity for conscious political decision-making that conventional history ignores.
--Molly Fischer, New York Magazine
Sentence by sentence, [The Dawn of Everything] is clear and forceful and funny, memorable in the manner of a lecture by the kind of professor whose students know they are lucky . . . The authors have organized a profusion of ideas, details, and explanatory paradigms into a vast but comprehensible design, while never ceasing to delight and instruct.
--Phil Christman, Commonweal Magazine
A startlingly new picture of our shared past: messier and more complicated, flush with diversity, experimentation, and, above all, freedom . . . A culmination of Graeber's lifelong project, as well as a testament to the power of intellectual collaboration . . . A new origin story of human societies, one with a horizon beyond our present disillusionment.
--Jared Spears, Yes! Magazine
Brainy . . . the latest--and most provocative--in a line of Big History: bold, panoptic works that offer to explain the whole sweep of man's story . . . [as] passionate as you'd expect from a decade-long labor of love--conceived by two learned and mischievous men.
--Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal
A fascinating argument about why humans today are 'stuck' in rigid, hierarchical states that would have appalled our ancestors . . . a fitting capstone to [Graeber's] career . . . The Dawn of Everything begins as a sharp rejoinder to sloppy cultural analysis and ends as a paean to freedoms that most of us never realized were available. Knowing that there were other ways to live, Graeber and Wengrow conclude, allows us to rethink what we might yet become.
--Annalee Newitz, The Washington Post
An engrossing series of insights into how 'the conventional narrative of human history is not only wrong, but quite needlessly dull'.
--Anthony Doerr, The Guardian
[A] sense of revelation animates this provocative take on humankind's social journey.
--Bruce Bower, Science News
Graeber and Wengrow hope to show that human imagination and possibility is broader and more hopeful than we let ourselves believe.
--Noah Berlatsky, NBC News
Wengrow and Graeber's project has been to show how alternatives of social and economic organization have been a deep part of our ancestry all along . . . No recent book is gaining faster traction in the artworld right now. Artists, take note.
This sweeping and novel synthesis exploring the arc of the human condition . . . may well prove to be the most important book of the decade, for it explodes deeply held myths about the inevitability of our social lives dominated by the state. It is at once a sophisticated analysis packaged in accessible prose that moves briskly in the unfolding tale of humanity's many forms of being and becoming.
--James H. McDonald, New York Journal of Books
With vivid narrative prose and rich detail... [The Dawn of Everything] take[s] readers on a myth-busting journey through the inner workings of prehistoric and historic societies around the world, showcasing the remarkable intelligence and agency of ancient peoples and the diverse societal solutions that they helped shape . . . Like Graeber, The Dawn of Everything is a rabble-rouser--a great book that will stimulate discussions, change minds, and drive new lines of research.
--Erle C. Ellis, Science
The Dawn of Everything, chockablock with archaeological and ethnographic minutiae, is an oddly gripping read. Graeber, who did his fieldwork in Madagascar, was well known for his caustic wit and energetic prose, and Wengrow, too, has established himself not only as an accomplished archaeologist working in the Middle East but as a gifted and lively writer . . . an imaginative success . . . At its core is a fascinating proposal about human values, about the nature of a good and just existence.
--Kwame Anthony Appiah, The New York Review of Books
An ingenious new look at 'the broad sweep of human history' and many of its 'foundational' stories . . . [Graeber and Wengrow] take a dim view of conventional accounts of the rise of civilizations, emphasize contributions from Indigenous cultures and the missteps of the great Enlightenment thinkers, and draw countless thought-provoking conclusions . . . A fascinating, intellectually challenging big book about big ideas.
--Kirkus Reviews [starred review]
Pacey and potentially revolutionary . . . the argument of the book is firmly based on a deluge of recent evidence that suggests that pre-agricultural societies were complex, that agriculture was not the sudden turning point it is claimed to be and, most importantly, that large, successful systems such as cities have been run without central, rule-giving controllers . . . This is more than an argument about the past, it is about the human condition in the present.
--Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times (UK)
The Dawn of Everything reimagines the human story from its earliest beginnings. Easily one of my favorite books of the year, every chapter left me with something to chew over. This is one of those books that will challenge you to reconsider everything.
-Emily B., Powells.com
"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, UCLA, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
"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 The Black Swan
"The Dawn of Everything is also the radical revision of everything, liberating us from the familiar stories about humanity's past that are too often deployed to impose limitations on how we imagine humanity's future. Instead they tell us that what human beings are most of all is creative, from the beginning, so that there is no one way we were or should or could be. Another of the powerful currents running through this book is a reclaiming of Indigenous perspectives as a colossal influence on European thought, a valuable contribution to decolonizing global histories."
--Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark and Orwell's Roses
"Not content with different answers to the great questions of human history, Graeber and Wengrow insist on revolutionizing the very questions we ask. The result: a dazzling, original, and convincing account of the rich, playful, reflective, and experimental symposia that 'pre-modern' indigenous life represents; and a challenging re-writing of the intellectual history of anthropology and archaeology. The Dawn of Everything deserves to become the port of embarkation for virtually all subsequent work on these massive themes. Those who do embark will have, in the two Davids, incomparable navigators."
--James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology ('Demeritus'), Yale University, author of Seeing Like a State
"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 take up a question as old as Rousseau--the origin of social inequality--only to reveal that it predates Rousseau and may in fact be the wrong question, based on rubbish history and reactionary speculation. Scavenging through the most up-to-date archaeological research and most recent anthropological record, the authors give us a world more various and unexpected than we knew, and more open and free than we imagine. This is social theory in the grand, old-fashioned sense, delivered with spell-binding velocity and an exhilarating sense of discovery."
--Corey Robin, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center
A fascinating inquiry, which leads us to rethink the nature of human capacities, as well as the proudest moments of our own history, and our interactions with and indebtedness to the cultures and forgotten intellectuals of indigenous societies. Challenging and illuminating.
"Graeber and Wengrow debug cliches about humanity's deep history to open up our thinking about what's possible in the future. There is no more vital or timely project."
--Jaron Lanier, author of Dawn of the New Everything
"Fascinating, thought-provoking, groundbreaking. A book that will generate debate for years to come."
--Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists
About the Author
David Wengrow is a professor of comparative archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and has been a visiting professor at New York University. He is the author of several books, including What Makes Civilization?. Wengrow conducts archaeological fieldwork in various parts of Africa and the Middle East.
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 704 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374157359
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374157357
- Best Sellers Rank: 31,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What makes Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything an instant classic is its comprehensive scientific demolition of this myth – what they call ‘the Myth of the Stupid Savage’. Not a shred of archaeological evidence tells us that the picture of the human past is remotely close to what the foundational myth suggests. Instead, what the available evidence shows is that the trajectory of human history has been a good deal more diverse and exciting and less boring than we tend to assume because, in an important sense, it has never been a trajectory. We never permanently lived in tiny hunter-gatherer bands. We also were never permanently egalitarian. If there is a defining trait of our prehistorical condition it is its bewildering capacity of shifting, almost constantly, across a diverse array of social systems of all kinds of political, economic, and religious nature. Graeber and Wengrow’s suggestion is that the only way to explain this kaleidoscopic variety of social forms is to assume that our ancestors were not actually that stupid, but were instead self-conscious political actors, capable of fashioning their own social arrangements depending on circumstances. More often than not, people would choose to switch seasonally between socio-political identities as to avoid the perils of lasting authoritarian power. And so, rather than asking ‘Why did inequality arise?’ the most interesting question to pose about human history becomes ‘Why did we get stuck with it?’ This is only one of many kindred claims advanced in this astounding new book.
The book draws much of its value from its eclectic approach. David Wengrow is a professor of comparative archaeology at UCL. He is well-known for his work on early cultural and political transformations in Africa and Eurasia. David Graeber, who died suddenly in September 2020, was a professor of anthropology at LSE, widely regarded as the most brilliant of his generation. Together, they explore a suite of recent archaeological findings that prove anomalous to the standard narrative (for instance, the existence of ancient large-scale egalitarian cities), but that, until now, had only been privy to a handful of experts who never quite unravelled the implications. Archaeological discoveries are therein appraised from anthropological eyes. The result is a sweeping tour into the past that hops from continent to continent and from one social sphere to another to tell stories that, depending on the reader’s familiarity with the archaeological record, might come as revelations.
We learn, for instance, that the uniformity in material culture across Eurasia in the Upper Palaeolithic meant that people lived in a large-scale imagined community spanning continents, putting to rest the idea that ‘primitives’ only spent their time in isolated bands. Counter-intuitively, the scale of single societies decreased over the course of human history as populations grew larger. From monumental sites such as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey or Hopewell in Ohio, we learn that people would seasonally come together from distant lands in what appear to have been large centres of cultural interactions for recreation and the exchange of knowledge. Journeying great distances while expecting to be welcomed into an extended community was a typical feature of our ancestors’ lives.
The book then pivots to agriculture. The received view has it that the birth of agriculture meant the more or less automatic emergence of stratified societies. Yet, this assumption runs into problems once we consider a phenomenon like ‘play farming’ across Amazonia, where acephalous societies like the Nambikwara, though familiar with techniques of plant domestication, consciously decided not to make agriculture the basis for their economy and to opt for a more relaxed approach that switched flexibly between foraging and cultivation. (Agriculture generally emerged in the absence of easier alternatives.) Further, we learn that some of the first agricultural societies of the Middle East formed themselves as egalitarian and peaceful responses to the predatory foragers of the surrounding hills. It was mostly women, here, that propelled the growth of agricultural science. We also learn that complex works of irrigation in some such places were executed communally without chiefs, and even where structures of hierarchy existed, these works were accomplished despite authority, not because of it. The gradual spread of agriculture across the globe was far less unilinear than anyone had previously guessed.
In what’s perhaps the best chapter of the book, the authors move on to examine cities. Nowadays, large-scale egalitarian cities, the mere idea of it, smacks of utopianism; but Graeber and Wengrow argue that it shouldn’t when we start thinking of cities as the coalescence, in a single physical space, of already existing extended imagined communities with their own egalitarian ethos and norms – first happening seasonally, then more stationarily, as conscious experiments in urban form. Sites like Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia and many others offer incontrovertible evidence of the past existence of such cities, where no sign of authoritarian rule can be found. (Generally, when these are found, they stand out in the form of palaces, temples, fortification, etc.) Other ancient cities like Cahokia in Mississippi or Shimao in China exhibit evidence of a temporal succession of different political orders, sometimes moving from authoritarian to egalitarian, which leaves the possibility of urban revolutions as a likely explanation for the change.
The final chapters focus on the ‘state’. Or better, on how misleading it is to define societies like the Inka or the Aztecs as ‘incipient states’ because these were far more diverse than what this straitjacket term would make us think. From the Olmec and the Chavin societies in Mesoamerica to the Shilluk of South Sudan, The Dawn of Everything offers a taste of the variety of authoritarian structures throughout history. By the end of the book, we encounter the archaeological gem that is Minoan Crete – a ‘beautiful irritant for archaeology’ – where all evidence points to the existence of an ancient system of female political rule, most likely a theocracy run by a college of priestesses.
There is much more. The leitmotif running through the chapters is that if we want to make sense of all these phenomena, we are obliged to put human collective intentionality back into the picture of human history, as a genuine explanatory variable. To assume, that is, that our ancestors were imaginative beings who were eminently capable of self-consciously creating their social arrangements. The authors by no means discount the importance of ecological determinants. Rather, they see their effort as moving the dial to a more sensible position within the agency–determinism continuum, which usually only takes one extreme. The key upshot is that this newfound view of our past equips us with an expanded sense of possibilities as to what we might do with ourselves in the future. Fatalistic sentiments about human nature melt away upon turning the pages.
Staying true to Ostrom’s law – ‘whatever works in practice must work in theory’ – Graeber and Wengrow set out a new framework for interpreting the social reality brought to light by empirical findings. Firstly, they urge us to abandon terms like ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ societies, let alone the ‘origin of the state’ or ‘origin of social complexity’. These terms already presuppose the kind of teleological thinking challenged in the book. The same goes for ‘modes of production’: whether a society relies on farming or fishing is a poor criterion for classification because it tells us almost nothing about its social dynamics. Secondly, they lay out some new descriptive categories of their own. They show, for instance, that social domination can be broken down into three elements – control of violence, control of knowledge, and charismatic power – and that permutations of these elements yield consistent patterns throughout history. While the modern nation state embodies all three, most hierarchical societies of the past had only one or two, and this allowed for the people who lived under them degrees of freedom that are barely imaginable for us today.
Graeber and Wengrow reflect at length on this last point. More than a work on the history of inequality, The Dawn of Everything is a treatise on human freedom. In parsing the anthropological record, they identify three types of freedom – freedom to abandon one’s community (knowing one will be welcomed in faraway lands), freedom to reshuffle the political system (often seasonally), and freedom to disobey authorities without consequences – that appear to have been simply assumed by our ancestors but are now largely lost (obviously, their conclusion is a far cry from Rousseau’s: there is nothing inevitable about this loss!). This analysis flips the question one should really be asking about the historical development of hierarchy: “The real puzzle is not when chiefs first appeared”, they suggest, “but rather when it was no longer possible to simply laugh them out of court.”
So much of what makes this book fascinating is the alien nature of what we encounter within, at least to contemporary eyes. Potlaches, headhunting and skull portraits, stranger kings, revolutions, shamanic art, vision quests… The Dawn of Everything reads like a work of sci-fi, except that what turns out to be fictional is our received view of human history. The writing is often funny, sometimes hilarious. At the same time, because hardly a paragraph goes by without bequeathing insight, this is a book that needs to be patiently taken in. It sits in a different class to all the other volumes on world history we are accustomed to reading.
The Dawn of Everything intellectually dwarfs the likes of Pinker, Diamond, or Fukuyama (and Harari too). Whenever non-specialists try their hands at human history, they inevitably end up reproducing the same old myths we have grown up with. Consider Steven Pinker: for all his talk about scientific progress, his books might as well have been written at the times of Hobbes, in the 17th century, when none of the evidence unearthed recently was available. Graeber and Wengrow casually expose these popular authors’ startling incompetence at handling the anthropological record. Only a solid command of the latter – namely, of the full documented range of human possibilities – affords a credible interpretative lens over the distant past. For it supplies the researcher with a refined sense of the rhythms of human history.
One of the experiences of delving into this book, at least in my case, was a gradual recognition of being in the presence of an intellectual oddity, something difficult to situate within the current landscape of social theory. By embracing once again the ‘grand narrative’, the book makes a clean break with post-structuralist and post-humanist trends widespread in contemporary academia. We know that Graeber, at least, liked to think himself as a ‘pre-humanist’, actively expecting to see humanity realise its full potential. One can certainly see this work as a contribution in that direction. One can also see The Dawn of Everything as belonging to the tradition of the Enlightenment (except that one of the other major claims in the book is that Enlightenment thought developed largely in response to indigenous intellectuals’ critiques of European society of the time). As for how it squares with current archaeological and anthropological theory, the book is of such a real sweep that I don’t think it admits easy comparisons.
If comparisons must be made, they should be made with works of similar calibre in other fields, most credibly, I venture, with the works of Galileo or Darwin. Graeber and Wengrow do to human history what the first two did to astronomy and biology respectively. The book produces a similar decentring effect: in dethroning our self-appointed position at the pinnacle of social evolution, it deals a blow to the teleological thinking that so insidiously shape our understanding of history. With the exception that while works such as Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and On the Origin of Species hinted at the relative insignificance of humans in the face of the cosmos, The Dawn of Everything explores all the possibilities we have to act within it. And if Galileo and Darwin stirred turmoil of their own, this will do even more so for precisely this reason. Ultimately, a society that accepts the story presented here as its official origin story – a story that is taught in its schools, that seeps into its public consciousness – will have to be radically different than the society we are currently living in.
Page 9 of the Dawn of Everything says, "When we first embarked on this book, our intention was to seek new answers to questions about the origins of social inequality." So this is a book with an agenda. It is a highly verbose polemic as opposed to a concise and dispassionate examination of the facts regarding the dawn of human culture.
In my new book, How the Sumerians Became Rich, on page 197, I introduce anthropologist David S. Sandeford's 2018 complex network model of organizational complexity and demographic scale that predicts and explains both the qualitative shift from egalitarian to hierarchical social organization and the quantitative relationship between population and organizational complexity. You can read more about this model in the Wikipedia article on State Formation. But then, on page 198, I present David Wengrow's dissenting point of view from his 2015 Jack Goody lecture in which he describes how the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture in Eastern Europe never transitioned from an egalitarian society to a ranked society, "because they saw no need for religious, military, or merchant ranks." The Dawn of Everything on page 297 concludes its discussion of this peace loving culture by saying simply, "around the middle of the fourth millennium BC, most of them were basically abandoned. We still don't know why." The Dawn of Everything does not provide the reader with the information that my book provides on page 199 -- "the kurgans that replaced the traditional horizontal graves in the area now contain human remains of a fairly diversified skeletal type approximately ten centimetres taller on average than the previous population." The Dawn of Everything has no mention of Sandeford nor does it provide all the information in a dispassionate way so that the reader has all of the facts.
Graeber and Wengrow never discuss the consequences for egalitarianism of the late 4th millennium BC spread of horses and bronze sword technology from the Caucasus region. Although the Transcaucasian or Kura-Araxes culture was known for its metallurgy and bronze weapons, the one mention of this destructive and invasive culture (hidden in note 82 on page 578) focuses instead upon their pottery, stews, and casseroles.
On page 138 of my book, I write, "Marcella Frangipane has been reporting on her excavations of late fourth millennium Arslantepe, where the monumental buildings were destroyed and new groups of people, probably nomadic pastoralists of Transcaucasian origin, settled down and built wattle and daub huts in the ruins." "All the cities and elites of Syria and Turkey that had been cooperating with Uruk, that displayed economic centralization both of labor and goods during the fourth millennium, are destroyed at this time." Graeber and Wengrow spin this situation by claiming on page 313 that 'heroic societies' moved in to occupy 'abandoned Uruk colonies'. The Dawn of Everything has older 2006 and 2012 references to Frangipane, not the newer 2016 and 2017 references that are in How The Sumerians Became Rich.
On pages 12 and 88, my book describes how, starting with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, humans in the Ancient Near East began to distinguish between artificially created domestic spaces and wild outdoor spaces. "Using standard mudbricks, a typical Neolithic house took about 2 weeks to build, using a crew of 5 people or less, after dedicating 1 week to making and drying 500 to 750 bricks." We get an idea of how important the clean and artificial appearance of these human-created spaces were to their owners from the effort that they were willing to invest in coating them with lime or gypsum plaster. They were willing to heat limestone at 800-900ºC for 2-4 days in order to form quicklime, which could be mixed with water to create a white paste that was then applied to coat the walls and floors of their houses. Combined probably with increased personal hygiene, these village-dwelling, home-owning people were no longer wild and uncivilized. This is not discussed at all in The Dawn of Everything, apparently because there is a recent school of anthropology that dismisses the distinction between wild spaces and anthropic spaces, or even the idea of progress, as some kind of judgmental Western-oriented way of thinking. The subtitle of Graeber and Wengrow's 2nd chapter speaks of 'the myth of progress'. That means that it would be judgmental and wrong to claim that the accumulated civilization of the Sumerians was more advanced than that of an Amazonian Indian tribe. You could not, however, tell that to all the neighbors who surrounded Sumer and who sought to emulate their orderly and prosperous way of life.
Ironically, Westerners entranced by the authors' dream of equality can learn from the experiences of a Marxist country that believed in 1945 that it could eliminate inequality. "The socialist model aspired to achieve an industrial progress free of the darker aspects of exploitation, inequality, and imperialism that marred western modernity." [Making China Modern, 2019, Muhlhahn, p. 375] "In the 1970s and 1980s, [however,] reform and opening set off profound changes in Chinese society. Poverty slowly disappeared from most regions, 400 million peasants saw their living standards improve markedly for the first time in decades....While the party securely held sway, egalitarianism and collectivism slowly unraveled and became concepts of the past." [ibid, pp. 513-514] By tracing the policy decisions and innovative steps by which China abandoned ideology in favor of economic progress, Muhlhahn's book parallels my own book on the Sumerians.
Best so far: Accounts from the huge archive of Jesuit Missionary records of their encounters with indigenous Americans when the French first colonised Nova Scotia, Quebec etc. - complaining that the awkward souls argued with greater independence of mind and clarity than the French people back home!
I am really delighted to read so much about the rationality and good values of our ancestors and fellow humans - with some sadness that so many of us do not recognise the chains we have allowed to imprison our minds.