From The Wall Street Journal:
‘The Dawn of Everything” is a brainy and braggadocious book, styling itself—without a hint of modesty—as “a new history of humanity.” A combative work that pushes a revisionist view of prehistory, it takes its fight to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, whose ideas on early man as a creature mired in a State of Nature it dismisses as pure fantasy. This is the anthropological equivalent of a tearing down of statues. Its authors are (the late) David Graeber and David Wengrow, professors, respectively, at the London School of Economics and University College London. Their book is a manifesto for early man, a bid to restore him to his “full humanity.”
Prehistoric man, say Messrs. Graeber and Wengrow, was no simpleton or dolt. Far from being akin to the modern-day apes to which he is glibly likened by popularizers of anthropology—such as Yuval Noah Harari in “Sapiens” (2014)—he was complex, creative and “full of playful possibilities.”
“The Dawn of Everything” is the latest—and most provocative—in a line of Big History: bold, panoptic works that offer to explain the whole sweep of man’s story. The genre kicked off with “Maps of Time” (2004), by David Christian, and includes such practitioners as Mr. Harari, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond and Francis Fukuyama. The book was 10 years in the writing and is every bit as dense and passionate as you’d expect from a decade-long labor of love—conceived by two learned and mischievous men.
Mr. Graeber, the more ungovernable of the two authors, died in September of last year, three weeks after the book was finished. An American anthropologist and anarchist, he had migrated to Britain in 2008 after failing to get tenure at Yale (and, subsequently, not getting a job at any of the more than 20 U.S. universities to which he applied). His views were simply too radical, which is astonishing in light of the present-day obsessions of American campuses. Mr. Graeber also helped to organize the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011, the year in which his anti-capitalist book “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” was published.
Mr. Wengrow, his British partner-in-writing, is a soft-spoken professor of archaeology with a lower public profile. In a dedication to Mr. Graeber, he describes the latter as someone who “tried to live his ideas about social justice and liberation.” It’s not surprising that a man like that would, with his co-author, attempt to liberate prehistoric humans from the straitjacket in which they have been confined since Rousseau wrote his “Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind” in 1754.
Until the early years of the 19th century, the authors tell us, “there was as yet no ‘prehistory.’ There was only history, even if some of that history was wildly wrong.” The term “prehistory” only entered the common language after a dig in Brixham Cave in Devon, in 1858, uncovered stone axes in a sealed rock casing, alongside the remains of extinct animals. After this, archaeology and geology began to play a major part in our understanding of man and earth.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes if you hit a paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
For the record, PG is firmly in the capitalist camp of economics. He suggests the greatest examples of charitable giving which benefits others were some of the greatest capitalists. For a classic example, he’ll point to Andrew Carnegie.
Carnegie emigrated to the United States from Scotland at the age of twelve. He had been born in a weaver’s cottage with only one main room which served as living room, dining room and bedroom. After his family arrived in the US, his first job was in a cotton factory where he worked as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He earned $1.20 per week, equivalent to $36 in today’s dollars.
Eventually, Carnegie became one of the richest men in United States history. He gave away 90% of his fortune for charitable purposes. One of Carnegie’s best-known charitable activities was to build and equip over 3,000 public libraries in the United States, Canada and England. The first Carnegie library was built in Dunfermline, Scotland, where he was born.
When PG was young, he and his family were patrons of a couple of different Carnegie libraries in places which would have been unlikely to have libraries absent Carnegie’s gifts.