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.
"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