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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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Very thought-provoking

Really fascinating book and, unlike some reviewers, I thought very easy to follow. Really made me question a lot of things I'd taken for granted about the early states. The author is honest about the limitations of the evidence after all this time but his questioning of received wisdom is really interesting. If you liked Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, I think you'd like this.

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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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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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A Very Intriguing Look at the Past

Did Hunter Gatherers avoid becoming Agrarian Farmers on purpose? Are grasses and grains our real captors? Are citizens and barbarians two sides of the same coin? The research in this book answers many of these questions.

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Fascinating and insightful

Fascinating and insightful. A good read, from start to finish. Well researched and written. Well worth the effort.

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Interesting but deep

A very thorough and commendable thesis. Probably difficult for a non enthusiast to follow however.