Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

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Yale University Press, Jan 1, 2017 - History - 312 pages
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An Economist Best History Book 2017

"History as it should be written."--Barry Cunliffe, Guardian

"Scott hits the nail squarely on the head by exposing the staggering price our ancestors paid for civilization and political order."--Walter Scheidel, Financial Times

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.

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User Review  - Shrike58 - LibraryThing

Considering that the author has a well-known history as a critic of the state's capacity to control human behavior, it's no surprise that Scott has discovered a fascination with some of the new ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - steve02476 - LibraryThing

Intriguing speculations about the origin of the first states, told by a Yale professor with anarchist leanings and a good understanding of the agricultural political economy. Sympathy for the barbarians! Read full review

About the author (2017)

James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University.

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