Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States
Yale University Press (Footprint), $44.99 hb, 329 pp, 9780300182910
The old narrative goes that first we were hunter–gatherers, then we discovered farming, then agricultural communities ‘progressed’ to states and, eventually, industrial cities. This ‘progression’ is supposedly how humans became ‘civilised’. This old narrative has been debunked by many. In Against the Grain: A deep history of the earliest states, James C. Scott explores why the ideas of progression and superiority of civilisation don’t make sense. He examines the key characteristics that made early states possible, the risks and rewards of sedentary life, and the two-way street between hunter–gatherer and farmer.
Against the Grain focuses on the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, in the years 6,500 to 1,600 BCE. Australian readers seeking a better understanding of our own deep history and context in the world will be disappointed. The whole Southern Hemisphere barely rates a mention.