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Wednesday, November 10, 2021


At the suggestion of someone on this blog, I cannot now remember whom, I ordered The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow.  It arrived yesterday and I started reading it this morning. With masses of footnotes and an extensive bibliography it runs well over 600 pages and I am only 35 pages into it, but I am enjoying it enormously and look forward to plowing through the whole thing in the coming days and weeks. The authors start right out by scoffing at, ridiculing, calling into question (to put it politely) the standard story of human development that I have been telling my students and writing about and lecturing on YouTube about for decades. Since the authors are anarchists (or I should say is or was, since David Graeber just passed away) and they are by trade anthropologists and archaeologists, fields in which I claim absolutely no expertise whatsoever, it is just fun to read their systematic dismantling of orthodoxies that have dominated our understanding of the development of human beings for as long as I can recall. When I get another hundred or two hundred pages into the book I will report on it at greater length but I already feel comfortable recommending it to any of you who are looking for a good read.


Ridiculousicculus said...

I also ordered the book after Eric posted about the review, but my copy will not arrive until 11/18. So I checked Amazon to see if I could get it sooner (I keep Amazon Prime) by cancelling my pre-order and submitting a "regular" order for the copy, and according to Amazon the book us back-ordered for 1-2 months, which is quite remarkable for a 600 page book packed with footnotes and written by a pair of politically heterodox social scientists!

Michael said...

That looks great. I'll go ahead and add it to my list.

I also just nabbed a cheap used copy of David Christian's Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, and I wonder if Maps would be a fair representative of the "standard account" of human development, and/or a worthy companion to Dawn. (At least the parts about human history. The Maps narrative also reaches back to the Big Bang.)

I've always been weak at history (as well as science), and embarrassed by how much basic information I've forgotten from school or neglected to learn in the first place, so I like the idea of using a manageably small number of "lay reader" books to patch up some of the gaping holes in my literacy. But it sounds like Dawn could do that and more.

LFC said...

@ Ridiculousicculus

As long as you're waiting, might consider ordering it from a local independent bkstore, if there's one near you, or B&N, or the publisher. They all need the revenue prob more than Amazon's book division/operation does. There might be a price difference, though it's not always significant, I think.

Ridiculousicculus said...

LFC - excellent point. I'll look into it. COVID-19 contributes to intertia, but for all I know the local bookstore has a copy on the shelf!

Eric said...

I began reading The Dawn of Everything the other day. It has indeed been a joy to read thus far. Graeber and Wengrow are very gifted writers.

However, I find myself in the middle of reading a bunch of other books as well, so not sure when I will finish it.

Someone in the past comments mentioned James C. Scott's Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, which I have also been enjoying.

Howie said...

I ordered a copy too. My reservation going into the book is this: the iron cage of Weber restricts the possibilities of anarchism, doesn't it?
Earlier men and women faced the world with more degrees of freedom. didn't they?
I'll allow the book a chance to make a pitch

Utopian Yuri said...

The Audiobook is well-done and can be downloaded immediately… I’m 5 hours in (out of 22 hours) and it’s very enjoyable.

Matt said...

I haven't read the book, and am not likely to, but Graeber had a reputation as someone who is sometimes...a bit careless... in his scholarship, and that seems to come up at least a few times in this book, too. This instances was getting a lot of attention the other day: (There were several other similar cases in _Debt_, the most famous being a really amazingly crazy statement about the start of Apple computers. Graeber went nuts when that was pointed out, and came up with a number of incompatible stories about it, but there were some others, too.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

The book doesn't come out here until January 2022. The title is less sensational. The title here is "Anfänge" (Beginnings). "The dawn of everything" ... less than this the publishers today probably no longer allow. Make it big, why not? is the motto.

Some years ago I had the luck and the pleasure to visit Gobeli Tepe. It was not a planned visit. According to the motto, we are in the vicinity, let's just go there, we drove off. The luck was then, that a German excavation team worked there. One of the employees saw us when we stopped about 100 meters in front of a barrier. He took us with him and led us a little closer. All my professional life I have been restoring old buildings and that usually leads to a higher level of respect for the achievements of the ancestors the longer you work on such things. At the same time, you become more and more humble yourself. What I saw there in Turkey, however, knocked me off my feet.

As a very young man, in the mid-70s, I saw Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. A film experience that I have also never forgotten. It was only a few weeks after visiting Göbleki Tepe, when I was looking with friends at the photos I had taken in the highlands of Anatolia, that I noticed the striking similarity between this monument to the Neolithic revolution and some of the scenes in Kubrick's film. In the film chapter "The Dawn of Man" appears for the first time that black monolith, which for me has always been a symbol of the fundamental not-knowing when it comes to the question of the origins of man.

Sometimes I think that it was these images from the "Space Odyssey" in my unconsciousness that the sight of Göbleki Tepe touched me so deeply.

Mazen said...

Thanks so much for the book recommendation, appreciate it!