An account of all the new & surprising evidence now available that contradicts the standard narrative for the beginnings of the earliest civilizations Why did humans abandon hunting & gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock & cereal grains, & governed by precursors of today’s states? Most people believe that plant & animal domestication allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, & states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, & a presumably secure way of living.

Against the Grain

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.

Available in store and online.

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