Against the Grain

A Deep History of the Earliest States
Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin
Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
Categories: History, Ancient History
4.5 out of 5 stars (328 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An account of all the new and surprising evidence now available for the beginnings of the earliest civilizations that contradict the standard narrative

Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal grains and governed by precursors of today's states? Most people believe that plant and animal domestication allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, and states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, and a presumably secure way of living. But archaeological and historical evidence challenges this narrative. The first agrarian states, says James C. Scott, were born of accumulations of domestications: first fire, then plants, livestock, subjects of the state, captives, and finally women in the patriarchal family - all of which can be viewed as a way of gaining control over reproduction.

Scott explores why we avoided sedentism and plow agriculture, the advantages of mobile subsistence, the unforeseeable disease epidemics arising from crowding plants, animals, and grain, and why all early states are based on millets and cereal grains and unfree labor. He also discusses the "barbarians" who long evaded state control, as a way of understanding continuing tension between states and nonsubject peoples.

©2017 Yale University (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

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As a complete layman, this is very good

Beyond popular knowledge, I know nothing about the cultural or economic history of early societies. This book strikes me as a very good entry point, as it seeks to accumulate the current state of research and disseminate it in a way that is thought provoking, and seemingly quit scholarly.

I never considered that there was a high level of "pro-state propaganda" in the way we are taught that states developed. I had never conceived that the development of structured sedentary societies was anything but a net positive for humanity. Based on what I learned in this book, that is not the actual experience of non-state peoples.

This book definitely sparked my interest in reading more about early human societies.

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent

Well researched, well written. Excellent bank of knowledge. Narrator did wonderful job, great mix of lecture and storytelling! Must read for history enthusiasts.

3 people found this helpful

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Outstanding

The evolution of of states sounds so familiar. I really enjoyed it. Fast flowing, easy to listen to, well worth my time to learn about this ancient history.

3 people found this helpful

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History for the closet anarchist

Quite frankly astonishing. A witty, subversive re-writing of history that will forever alter my view of the modern state. Brilliant.

12 people found this helpful

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Very Eye Opening Audiobook

First let me say that I really appreciate Audible for creating this audiobook. Mr. Scott has performed a great service for us in writing this book. From a historical perspective, I had a very limit knowledge of how "States" came to be, having only read Franz Oppenheimer's "The State". But now, thanks to this excellent book, I have a more fuller understanding of their genesis. I was so impressed, that I immediately purchased (here on Audible) Mr. Scott's "Seeing Like a State". Many, many thanks Mr. Scott!

Also, Eric Martin did a great job reading the text!

2 people found this helpful

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Very Timely.

This book includes detailed discussion and comparison of non-state peoples (barbarians) with the first states. Recent advances in recovering ancient dna has made tracking the movements of such people easier. (Youtube
Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past Harvard Museum of Natural History).

Further, early agricultural states did not have much leeway in excess production to support elaborate state apparatus and seldom lasted. However, even if "the state" collapsed the population might be better off for it. For instance, a feudal lord post Roman collapse might very well value his serfs better then the previous state apparatus that bled the peasants dry, or even used outright slavery on latifundia.

On the other hand some collapses might have depopulate the city state by epidemics which would have been more dangerous in the early days of urban close living.

2 people found this helpful

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Challenges state-centric narratives about history

This is an accessible listen that covers a broad swath of history. I love books that challenge common knowledge with new evidence, and this book challenges received beliefs about barbarians and civilizations.

1 person found this helpful

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Favorite book of last year

I’m a libertarian and paleo dieter and I loved this book. It blew my mind and filled in my understanding of history. I kept having to text my friends new mind blowing incites. I never before considered that states arose only with the cultivation of grain.

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Performance is too dull

The subject of this book is exactly the sort of thing that I find interesting (the interaction of history, humanity and science.) The text was dense but interesting and accessible and I hoped it would expand my knowledge and enthusiasm for the topic. However, as presented it was dull and dreary and I lost interest each time I tried to get back into it. I ended up returning it.

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valuable lessons on the origins of the state

well researched and presented case for the creation of early states and the evolution of the early state predecessors alongside hunter gatherer and barbarian populations.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Homohereticalis
  • 02-13-20

History geek heaven

This is a thoroughly deep and thought provoking exploration of a pivotal time in human evolution, early civilisation and the first states. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the epipaleolithic and neolithic revolutions.

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  • Mr. Mathew Gumbley
  • 10-02-18

Good with some interesting insights

A good summary of recent scholarship that is accessible to a non academic audience (like me).

Not sure how appropriate some of the terminology is, like "proletariat" and "booty capitalism", but I am far from well informed on the subject.

The analysis is singularly materialistic; the cause of social change is explained wholly in terms of technology and the management of the surplus of wealth and grain.

Traditional historical narratives of development are complicated and undermined giving a broader context for the relation between different types of society, city and country, "civilized" and "barbarian".

The first chapters on pre-state agriculture and social organisation I found the most insightful.

Overall worth a buy.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-24-18

Irritating droning narrator. Great thesis. Book could do with further to reduce incessant replication of arguments.

Irritating droning narrator. Great thesis and arguments. Book lacks crafting; too much replication of the same ideas. But succeeds in making you look at issues with fresh ideas, and dispels old dogma.