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A wonderful example of how to think about history. Sumner begins by noting that "If we put together all that we have learned from anthropology and ethnography about primitive men and primitive society, we perceive that the first task of life is to live. Men begin with acts, not with thoughts. Every moment brings necessities which must be satisfied at once. Need was the first experience, and it was followed at once by a blundering effort to satisfy it."
This opening passage tells us how it is that ethnographers, anthropologists, and historians can take fragmentary evidence and put together a coherent picture that speculates what a particular society was really like. He makes it clear that in many ways most of what we know as history is conjecture and that reliance on documents left behind by a ruling elite may not paint the most accurate picture of what actually happened. As Jeff Riggenbach suggests in his great iTunes series, The Libertarian Tradition, this book should be read together with Adam Ferguson's, An Essay on the History of Civil Society.