A fascinating, intellectually challenging big book about big ideas.

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THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING

A NEW HISTORY OF HUMANITY

An ingenious new look at “the broad sweep of human history” and many of its “foundational” stories.

Graeber, a former professor of anthropology at London School of Economics who died in 2020, and Wengrow, professor of comparative archaeology at University College London, take a dim view of conventional accounts of the rise of civilizations, emphasize contributions from Indigenous cultures and the missteps of the great Enlightenment thinkers, and draw countless thought-provoking conclusions. In 1651, British philosopher Thomas Hobbes proclaimed that humans require laws and government authority because life in primitive cultures was “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A few decades later, French thinker Rousseau wrote that humans in a state of nature were free until they acquired property that required legal protection. Graeber and Wengrow point out that these conceptions of historical progression dominate the opinions of many experts, who assume that society passed through stages of development: hunter-gatherers, farmers, urban-industrial society, and so on. Graeber and Wengrow maintain that no scientific evidence supports this view, adding that traditional scholarship says little about “prehistory,” during which supposedly egalitarian hunter-gatherers roamed and foraged until about 10,000 years ago, when they purportedly took up agriculture and things became interesting. This orthodox view dismisses countless peoples who had royal courts and standing armies, built palaces, and accumulated wealth. As the authors write, “there is simply no reason to assume that the adoption of agriculture in more remote periods also meant the inception of private land ownership, territoriality, or an irreversible departure from forager egalitarianism.” Many early cities thrived for centuries with no sign of hierarchy, contradicting scholars who assume that authoritarian rule appears naturally whenever large populations gather. The quest for the “origin of the state,” given scattered and contradictory evidence, may be a fool’s errand. Graeber and Wengrow, while providing no definitive answers, cast grave doubts on those theories that have been advanced to date.

A fascinating, intellectually challenging big book about big ideas.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-15735-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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