The Dawn of Everything Book Summary - The Dawn of Everything Book explained in key points
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The Dawn of Everything summary

David Graeber & David Wengrow

A New History of Humanity

4.1 (355 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber & David Wengrow explores the origin and evolution of society from ancient civilizations to present times. It challenges traditional assumptions about human history and offers a new perspective on how societies have been formed and organized.

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    The Dawn of Everything
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    Key idea 1 of 9

    Society didn’t develop in a linear fashion.

    When it comes to how human society developed, there are two opposing stories. 

    The first one comes from the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it goes like this: Once upon a time, we were all hunter-gatherers. We lived in small bands, and everyone was more or less equal. Then came the advent of agriculture. We figured out how to cultivate plants and animals, and we stopped hunting and gathering. This agricultural revolution led to more complex political structures, not to mention advancements in cultural phenomena such as the arts, philosophy, and literature. It also spawned hierarchical phenomena like patriarchy, mass execution, and interminable bureaucracy.

    The other story was developed by a decidedly grumpier thinker, the English writer Thomas Hobbes. His story goes like this: Humans are, at their core, selfish creatures. In the past, life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hierarchy and domination, he believed, have always been an aspect of human society.

    So which story is true? Most social scientists would anwer: a bit of both. But when you look at the evidence, including an ever-increasing archeological archive, it becomes clear that the bit-of-both answer is also unsatisfactory. You see, both stories posit linearity. That is, they both argue that, from a pre-civilized condition – be it Rousseau’s condition of equality or Hobbes’s condition of hierarchy – we evolved into our current “civilized” state. But when you examine the evidence and think carefully about it, the truth is that human society did not develop linearly. Civilization did not march forward. It marched sideways, it went backward, it stood still. And, anyway, the “marching forward” metaphor is silly and misleading, since it’s not necessarily accurate to think that our society is better than those that preceded it. 

    So why is it so hard for us to imagine alternatives to the stories of Rousseau and Hobbes?

    Early societies were a lot more complex – and interesting – than we’re taught to believe. These blinks seek to restore our ancestors to their full humanity, showing that many more possibilities for political organization and social interaction exist.

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    What is The Dawn of Everything about?

    The Dawn of Everything (2021) is a reimagining of the history of humanity, based on new discoveries in the worlds of anthropology and archeology. According to the authors, new findings challenge what we thought we knew about hierarchies, inequality, property, and the state. 

    Who should read The Dawn of Everything?

    • Anyone who’s ever shaken their fist at bureaucracy
    • History lovers of all stripes
    • Those who want to be Indiana Jones when they grow up

    About the Author

    David Graeber was an American anthropologist and anarchist. He authored several books including Bullshit Jobs and Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

    David Wengrow is a British archeologist who has written extensively about Neolithic societies and the emergence of the first states in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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