David Graeber passed away in 2020, but before his untimely death he left us with this final gift. Expertly finished by his coauthor David Wengrow, 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. Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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
"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)
"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
"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
"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
"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." Noam Chomsky
"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 Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, and was a contributor to Harper's Magazine, The Guardian, and The Baffler. An iconic thinker and renowned activist, his early efforts in Zuccotti Park made Occupy Wall Street an era-defining movement. He died on September 2, 2020.
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.