Cover Image: The Dawn of Everything

The Dawn of Everything

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Member Reviews

I tried, I really did.

The narrator was so monotone and dry, I couldn't take it. I felt like I was in that one required course, only taught by that one stodgy professor, that I'd put off until senior year because everyone warned me it was a snooze.

I kept thinking, "how do I make it through 24 hours of this?"

And so I gave up. I hate giving up, but every once in a while, there's a book that has me thinking, "I can be a quitter."  This was that book.
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A very interesting and well-argued approach to prehistory. This was very long and I did find myself zoning out at times while listening, but I still gleaned a lot of information and thought it was worth my time.
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This is a fascinating work of history and archaeology. This book has a very clear political bent, which I found to be a little bit of a turn-off, but the book is exceptionally well researched. I would recommend this book to scholars and lay-readers, but I certainly recommend reading with a critical eye.
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Really incredible, important book. It's a shame we'll never again hear from the mind of David Graeber, who passed away in 2020. I enjoyed the narrator, and while some of the larger points escaped me I was able keep up with most of the book.
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Extensively researched and thoroughly written, the authors explore the history of inequality in our world. Some very interesting concepts, but very deep.
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The Dawn of Everything challenges popular beliefs about the origin of civilization and the implications of social complexity. It also credits indigenous peoples for the rise of values like freedom and equality in Europe during the Enlightenment. The examination of societies throughout history and throughout the globe brings new insights that expose how racism and patriarchy have poisoned Western understanding of how human cultures organize themselves.

This book is transformational. It's long but worth the read. The audiobook is a good choice—well narrated and easy to listen to.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
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David Wengrow and the late David Graeber have chosen to venture into the pitched battlefield that is the telling and retelling of the origins of human civilization. Their tome (700+ pages or 24+ hours of audio) is ostensibly provocative though discursive and predicated on a questionable methodology (a more expansive, inclusive, and wide-eyed reading of primary sources on or from primitive human groups and their related artifacts) with the grandiose title <i>The Dawn of Everything</i>. They position their work as a more solemn, serious, and nuanced alternative to popular works by public intellectuals like Steven Pinker, Yuval Noah Harari, and Jared Diamond. The Davids assert these works are simplistic myth-making efforts that erroneously reify a Rosseauan or Hobbesian perspective on human nature (and thus are fatalistic about social organization) married to a teleological view of human progress. Although never explicitly acknowledged in the work, the authors have anarchic political sympathies and thus share the perspective that human nature is quite a bit more flexible and good natured (in the right conditions) than a mainstream read of the salient evidence from their discipline (anthropology) and related field like evolutionarily-oriented disciplines and sociology broadly would be. Considering these limitations, <i>The Dawn of Everything</i> is still probably a work worth reading; it just happens to either argue for things that aren't as impactful as they think they are (e.g. human behavior and social practices can be very flexible) or are just not well substantiated (e.g. that matriarchal societies existed in human history).

I think readers should forgive the Davids a bit for daring to make some zany claims (it is great to think daringly sometimes), but it would have landed better if they were a bit more deft and humble about it. A lot of their supposed rebuttals of fairly mainstream orthodoxies about the history and nature of human civilization (even ones that are simplifications) are premised on fairly tenuous evidence and often require some very generous interpretations of their sources. Moreover, the book is largely ignorant of or foolishly ignores the insights of linguistics, primatology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and ancient population genomics, especially in terms of the harder evidence they can provide about human behavior, socialization, and migration. This is a huge oversight as these types of discussions even make the pages of the purportedly simplistic popular works that the Davids scorn. 

I think the real failing of the work is that the authors aren't actually able to provide an operational and detailed description of a supposed ideal modern human civilization at scale. There isn't a synthesis about what this should mean for our world despite their clear displeasure with how they think society is "stuck" in particular governing systems now. They give some small-scale and vague examples that aren't much more than fantasies. Plus, they dismiss concerns about scale, logistics, and transaction costs (not even addressed) flippantly and don't even tender a definitive perspective on human nature (implying inaccurately that it is more malleable than it actually is). There just is no serious thinking about political economy or information flow for a complex, technologically mature global society from their perspective. Despite often criticizing Rousseau's work, they still are seemingly siding with him about essential human nature, while ignoring the well-known, mainstream, agnostic resolution of the Rousseau-Hobbes debate, i.e. Lockean Social Contract Theory. Overall, <i>The Dawn of Everything</i> is an interesting but very messy and fanciful re-imagining of human history.

*Disclaimer: I received this audiobook as an ARC through NetGalley
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I had really been looking forward to this, and it did not disappoint. Basically, the Davids are challenging the assumption that societies evolve in a predictable and necessary way. I didn't agree with everything, but this book is fascinating.


Review copy provided by publisher.
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