A reading club with a view to the future

249 David Graeber, David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything

Re-examining human history and challenging assumptions of hierarchy, violence and progress, offering a new narrative for human society.

David Graeber, David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything


"The Dawn of Everything" is a revisionist history book that challenges conventional ideas about human civilization. Drawing from a wide range of disciplines, the authors argue that early societies were more egalitarian, peaceful and inventive than commonly believed, and that the rise of hierarchy, violence and exploitation was not inevitable or natural. They offer a new narrative of human society that emphasizes the diversity, complexity and creativity of prehistoric and non-Western cultures, and that invites readers to rethink their assumptions about progress, civilization and human nature.


Title: The Dawn of Everything

Author: David Graeber, David Wengrow

Publishing year: 2021

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Length in hours: 24 hours and 13 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. The myth of the "Neolithic Revolution": the authors argue that the idea of a sudden and decisive transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and civilization is a misleading and Eurocentric narrative that ignores the diversity and complexity of prehistoric cultures.
  2. The invention of hierarchy: the authors challenge the assumption that hierarchy and inequality are inherent in human nature or necessary for social organization, and show how they emerged from specific historical contexts and power struggles.
  3. The diversity of early societies: the authors highlight the wide range of social and cultural practices of prehistoric and non-Western societies, and how they offer alternative models of social organization and values.
  4. The role of violence: the authors question the view that violence and war are inevitable and universal features of human history, and show how many societies have managed to avoid or mitigate them through various means.
  5. The relevance of the past: the authors argue that revisiting and reimagining the past is crucial for imagining a different future, and that the conventional narrative of progress and civilization has limited our imagination and potential for change.
David Graeber, David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything

5 funny quotes

  1. "The problem with stories is that they are both true and false at the same time."
  2. "The past is a foreign country, but it's also a mirror that reflects our present anxieties and aspirations."
  3. "Archaeology is a form of time travel that doesn't require a DeLorean or a TARDIS, but a trowel and a brush."
  4. "History is a choose-your-own-adventure book that we are all co-authoring, whether we like it or not."
  5. "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself, and the best way to create it is to learn from the past."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "If we believe that human history has been a long, painful crawl from barbarism to civilization, then we will accept that a certain amount of suffering and violence is the price we must pay for progress."
  2. "The idea that humans are essentially selfish, aggressive and competitive is not an empirical fact, but a cultural and ideological construct that has been used to justify various forms of domination and exploitation."
  3. "The rise of hierarchy, inequality and domination was not a natural or necessary consequence of human evolution, but a contingent and reversible outcome of specific historical processes and power struggles."
  4. "The myth of the 'Neolithic Revolution' has served as a template for the Western narrative of progress, development and modernization, but it has distorted our understanding of the diversity and complexity of prehistoric and non-Western cultures."
  5. "By rethinking the past, we can reimagine the future, and by challenging the dominant narrative of progress and civilization, we can open up new possibilities for social and political transformation."

5 dilemmas

  1. Can we appreciate the diversity and complexity of human cultures without falling into cultural relativism or ethnocentrism?
  2. Can we challenge the dominant narrative of progress and civilization without denying the achievements and benefits of modernity?
  3. Can we reject hierarchy and domination without sacrificing order and stability?
  4. Can we overcome violence and war without resorting to pacifism or naivete?
  5. Can we reconcile the paradox of being both individuals and members of a community, without sacrificing either freedom or solidarity?

5 examples

  1. The Hopi, a Native American tribe in Arizona that has maintained its culture and autonomy despite centuries of colonization and oppression.
  2. The Egalitarian Band Society of the Kalahari, a hunter-gatherer community in southern Africa that challenges the notion of "primitive" and "uncivilized" societies.
  3. The Zomia region of Southeast Asia, a mountainous area that has served as a refuge for various ethnic and linguistic groups fleeing from state control and domination.
  4. The Rojava Revolution, a Kurdish-led movement in northern Syria that seeks to create a democratic and feminist society based on principles of autonomy, ecology and pluralism.
  5. The Mauryan Empire, a pre-modern state in ancient India that practiced religious tolerance, public welfare and nonviolence, and inspired Gandhi's philosophy of ahimsa.

Referenced books

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
  • The Horse, the Wheel, and Language by David W. Anthony

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"The rise of hierarchy, inequality and domination was not a natural or necessary consequence of human evolution, but a contingent and reversible outcome of specific historical processes and power struggles."

David Graeber, David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything
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