I join with Geoff Shullenberger of “Outsider Theory” to discuss the sweeping and challenging new book, “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity” by David Graeber and David Wengrow. We consider the book’s marshalling of new archaeological evidence to debunk mechanistic and deterministic assumptions about the rise of civilization, its deep rejection of Marxism, and its insistence on the human ability to imagine and create an infinite range of social and political futures. We examine the weaknesses and limitations of the book, including its over-emphasis on personal freedom, its gross inaccuracy with regard to the eighteenth century, and its blindspot regarding the profound powers of myth, ritual, and the natural environment, all of which deeply guide and shape societies in ways that Graeber & Wengrow ignore or casually discount.
Scroll down for other books & authors mentioned in the episode.
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Other books & authors mentioned:
Marshall Sahlins, “The Original Affluent Society”
Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens”
James C. Scott, “Against the Grain”
Claude Levi-Strauss, “The Savage Mind”
Victor Turner, “The Ritual Process”
Karl Wittfogel, “Oriental Despotism”
John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”
Francoise de Graffigny, “Letters of a Peruvian Woman”
Niccolo Machiavelli, “Discourses on Livy”
Jared Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”
JN Heard, “The Assimilation of Captives on the American Frontier in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” LSU thesis
David Graeber, “On Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit,” “Debt: The First 5000 Years”
Karl Polanyi, “The Great Transformation”
Mark Fisher, “Capitalist Realism”
Orlando Patterson, “Slavery and Social Death”
Bruno Latour, “We Have Never Been Modern”
Roberto Calasso, “The Ruin of Kasch”
Things You Don’t Know
Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
Ever heard that Florida has no history? Dr. Sam wants you to know how incorrect that common perception actually is…
How did so much of the Epic of Gilgamesh remain hidden and forgotten – but preserved – for over 2,000 years until being rediscovered in modern times?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
How can one mid-sized U.S. city – Tulsa, Oklahoma – serve as a microcosm of so much of the triumphalism and tragedy of American history?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?