• Against the Grain

  • A Deep History of the Earliest States
  • By: James C. Scott
  • Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin
  • Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (742 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An account of all the new and surprising evidence now available for the beginnings of the earliest civilizations that contradict the standard narrative

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.

©2017 Yale University (P)2017 Audible, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about Against the Grain

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World without Women

Ignoring the matrilineal and matrilocal origins of human kind in our prehistory is the chief limit of this study. It is enlightening to know that farming and domestication of animals preceded city state by 4 thousand years. But what about the tens, even hundreds of thousands of years before that? A time when there is no record of war, of class, or male domination. Women hardly appear in his entire book..Did women create language? Did they create agriculture? Did they create string, nets, clothes, and tame animals? When the author claims that tribes were the creation of the city states, he abandons all reason for a comforting notion that male domination always existed and that human culture sprang spontaneously from the dark past in the exact image of our current society. The origins of male usurpation of the land, aka private property, is fundamental to rise of civilization and war. The origins of the slave trade and the subjugation of women cannot be understood without understanding the origins of private property in the prehistoric past. Did the raiding pastoral "barbarians" spring up whole like an apparition from an urban dream? Did pastoralists have a prehistory without male domination and war? Why ignore all these questions and the scholarship done mainly by women? The answer is sadly obvious.

19 people found this helpful

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History for the closet anarchist

Quite frankly astonishing. A witty, subversive re-writing of history that will forever alter my view of the modern state. Brilliant.

16 people found this helpful

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As a complete layman, this is very good

Beyond popular knowledge, I know nothing about the cultural or economic history of early societies. This book strikes me as a very good entry point, as it seeks to accumulate the current state of research and disseminate it in a way that is thought provoking, and seemingly quit scholarly.

I never considered that there was a high level of "pro-state propaganda" in the way we are taught that states developed. I had never conceived that the development of structured sedentary societies was anything but a net positive for humanity. Based on what I learned in this book, that is not the actual experience of non-state peoples.

This book definitely sparked my interest in reading more about early human societies.

14 people found this helpful

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Very Eye Opening Audiobook

First let me say that I really appreciate Audible for creating this audiobook. Mr. Scott has performed a great service for us in writing this book. From a historical perspective, I had a very limit knowledge of how "States" came to be, having only read Franz Oppenheimer's "The State". But now, thanks to this excellent book, I have a more fuller understanding of their genesis. I was so impressed, that I immediately purchased (here on Audible) Mr. Scott's "Seeing Like a State". Many, many thanks Mr. Scott!

Also, Eric Martin did a great job reading the text!

10 people found this helpful

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An interesting perspective

I return to this presentation from time to time to ceep prspective. I recommend it.

6 people found this helpful

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Possibly an interesting book

The narration is so bad I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. The reading sounds as if done by some out of date text to speech synthesizer and is unbearable.

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Favorite book of last year

I’m a libertarian and paleo dieter and I loved this book. It blew my mind and filled in my understanding of history. I kept having to text my friends new mind blowing incites. I never before considered that states arose only with the cultivation of grain.

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Pathetic effort

Pathetic effort
A lot of wild speculation based on a tiny amount of evidence.
The same point repeated over and over. The author’s main point about being outside a grain centered civilization is a paradise would led to native Americans being the happy and healthiest people, and even more so when European contact. A wrong conclusion. A waste of time.

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Outstanding

The evolution of of states sounds so familiar. I really enjoyed it. Fast flowing, easy to listen to, well worth my time to learn about this ancient history.

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valuable lessons on the origins of the state

well researched and presented case for the creation of early states and the evolution of the early state predecessors alongside hunter gatherer and barbarian populations.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Lukas Daalder
  • 08-16-21

Lukas

I missed the wow-moment that seemed to have promised to me at the beginning of the book. Still, it is interesting to see a different point of view.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Caroline
  • 02-06-21

Very thought-provoking

Really fascinating book and, unlike some reviewers, I thought very easy to follow. Really made me question a lot of things I'd taken for granted about the early states. The author is honest about the limitations of the evidence after all this time but his questioning of received wisdom is really interesting. If you liked Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, I think you'd like this.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Brian Howard
  • 02-13-20

History geek heaven

This is a thoroughly deep and thought provoking exploration of a pivotal time in human evolution, early civilisation and the first states. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the epipaleolithic and neolithic revolutions.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. Mathew Gumbley
  • 10-02-18

Good with some interesting insights

A good summary of recent scholarship that is accessible to a non academic audience (like me).

Not sure how appropriate some of the terminology is, like "proletariat" and "booty capitalism", but I am far from well informed on the subject.

The analysis is singularly materialistic; the cause of social change is explained wholly in terms of technology and the management of the surplus of wealth and grain.

Traditional historical narratives of development are complicated and undermined giving a broader context for the relation between different types of society, city and country, "civilized" and "barbarian".

The first chapters on pre-state agriculture and social organisation I found the most insightful.

Overall worth a buy.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-09-21

Some great content but gets repetitive

There are some great points presented in this book but it could have been half the length - almost every idea was repeated several times and it felt like the author was meandering back and forth between a group of ideas, without a clear structure from the beginning to the end. Still worth a read through!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Federico Sohns
  • 08-14-21

Neat and Brief Intro

Good intro to the theory of origin of states. The chapter about fire domestication and grains stand out for me (in line with Scott's "The Art of Not Being Governed"). I was disappointed by how the title teased talk about patriarchy and the means of workforce reproduction, and how little we got tho. for that, it seems Gerda Lerner's "The Creation of Patriarchy" continues to be the way to go. Overall tho, for it's short runtime, ATG gets four stars on poignancy. Pretty good if this is the only thing you'll read on this topic.

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  • Oli
  • 04-03-21

A Very Intriguing Look at the Past

Did Hunter Gatherers avoid becoming Agrarian Farmers on purpose? Are grasses and grains our real captors? Are citizens and barbarians two sides of the same coin? The research in this book answers many of these questions.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jammin042
  • 02-05-21

Fascinating from start to finish

Brilliant book that I can't recommend highly enough. Informative, strangely inviting and fun. Gives an interesting perspective on the origins of farming and modern society.

1 person found this helpful

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  • nine8nine
  • 10-22-20

Interesting but deep

A very thorough and commendable thesis. Probably difficult for a non enthusiast to follow however.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ragne
  • 08-15-22

Could be much better

I managed to listen through despite the narrator. I would probably like the book better if I read it.

The entire book through I kept thinking "this author is very much an anarchist". It seems I was right, he's written books about anarchism. I don't mind anarchist, I agree in severe points, but it shows too much in this book. It colours the conclusions too much.

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  • Charlie
  • 03-24-18

Irritating droning narrator. Great thesis. Book could do with further to reduce incessant replication of arguments.

Irritating droning narrator. Great thesis and arguments. Book lacks crafting; too much replication of the same ideas. But succeeds in making you look at issues with fresh ideas, and dispels old dogma.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-21-22

Great overview of early modern state formations

Really important analysis of new historical, archeological and other evidence on early state formations and their limitations.

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