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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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  • Lauren L
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 04-15-18

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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

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World without Women

Ignoring the matrilineal and matrilocal origins of human kind in our prehistory is the chief limit of this study. It is enlightening to know that farming and domestication of animals preceded city state by 4 thousand years. But what about the tens, even hundreds of thousands of years before that? A time when there is no record of war, of class, or male domination. Women hardly appear in his entire book..Did women create language? Did they create agriculture? Did they create string, nets, clothes, and tame animals? When the author claims that tribes were the creation of the city states, he abandons all reason for a comforting notion that male domination always existed and that human culture sprang spontaneously from the dark past in the exact image of our current society. The origins of male usurpation of the land, aka private property, is fundamental to rise of civilization and war. The origins of the slave trade and the subjugation of women cannot be understood without understanding the origins of private property in the prehistoric past. Did the raiding pastoral "barbarians" spring up whole like an apparition from an urban dream? Did pastoralists have a prehistory without male domination and war? Why ignore all these questions and the scholarship done mainly by women? The answer is sadly obvious.

11 of 44 people found this review helpful

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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.