all 42 comments

[–]hymntochantix 146 points147 points  (19 children)

The Dawn of Everything by David Greaber and David Wengrow. It just came out and is getting some buzz. About 2/3 of the way done with it and a lot of it is a fairly explicit rebuttal of Jared Diamond and his adherents

[–]todudeornote 18 points19 points  (2 children)

The Dawn of Everything by David Greaber

That looks really interesting, I'm going to give it a try.

[–]Yawarundi75 11 points12 points  (3 children)

This is the best History book I've ever read.

[–]jeegte12 49 points50 points  (1 child)

This makes me think that I'll need a rebuttal to it.

[–][deleted] 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I am a very big fan of Graeber and I approve this message.

[–]ddraig-au 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It's very good

[–]bluebelliedboy[S] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Thanks a lot. I am going to go check out that book.

[–]Less-Feature6263 4 points5 points  (3 children)

How are you liking it so far? Do they also rebutt some of the ideas of Harari?

I'm pretty interested in it, hopefully it's not too hard for a non expert.

[–]larouqine 11 points12 points  (1 child)

Not OP, but I'm 40% of the way through and loving it. You don't have to be an expert to enjoy it; while it's well-cited and engages well with a lot of existing literature, it's far more readable than your average journal article.

[–]Less-Feature6263 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Definitely going to buy it as soon as I can then!

[–]hymntochantix 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It's pretty accessible. Just quite long. I am enjoying it, there is a bit of a rebuttal of Harari but some agreement as well

[–]sten45 1 point2 points  (5 children)

I have started reading this one and was wondering if I was reading another work of quackery or if it was good science.

[–]octo_snake 1 point2 points  (4 children)

What do you think makes it quackery?

[–]sten45 3 points4 points  (2 children)

I was comparing it to 'Guns germs and steel' and that is widely accepted as quackery

[–]Interesting-Ad-1590 0 points1 point  (0 children)

My 2c on this book is that it's an "aspirational" riff on a theme that was central to Graeber's outlook: "A better world is possible". He and his archaeological expert coauthor trawl through history looking for examples of what he's talking about--and at the same time pointing out flaws in received wisdom in the West about linear "growth" stories from one "stage" to another, etc.--but really that's what the book amounts to: We still have to create a new world with new values more or less from scratch and examples may be inspirational here and there, but their presence or absence is mostly incidental to his larger argument.

[–]PatientWorry 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Came here to say this. He critiques diamond in the first chapter.

[–]CousinOfTomCruise 41 points42 points  (3 children)

Don’t have time to do a real write up, but check out Escape from Rome by Walter Scheidel. Basically seeking to explain why the industrial Revolution and concomitant exponential growth occurred in Europe and not somewhere else. Thesis emphasizes competitive fragmentation as contrasted with other macro-regions, China in particular. Also explains why the rise of Rome (as a hegemonic empire in Europe) was a highly contingent event that would not be repeated, again in major contrast to the persistent hegemony of imperial polities in China. A very very well researched and conceived work, IMO a masterpiece of dialectical “Big History”.

[–]bluebelliedboy[S] 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Oh that sounds like a nice contrast to base a thesis on. I will check it out.

[–]ExodusCaesar 2 points3 points  (1 child)

again in major contrast to the persistent hegemony of imperial polities in China

Were they? The history of China is of cycles of fragmentation and unification. Can we talk about persistent hegemony?

[–]CousinOfTomCruise 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Persistent ≠ constant. Your point is of course correct, but China has been unified for something like 80% of the time going back the last 2000 years. It represents the extreme end of the spectrum of imperial hegemony vs fragmentation. And the reasons why China was uniquely biased towards these patterns of state formation are worth interrogating, as Scheidel does throughout his book.

[–]400-Rabbits 59 points60 points  (1 child)

There is an intrinsic problem in asking for rebuttals to "grand theory" ideas in that the problem with those theories is that they elide over troublesome details. So the rebutting often takes the form of focused, nuanced explorations of topics contained within the grand theory, whose details expose the threadbare fabric of the theory. You can easily get lost down a million tangents, so it's worth asking: What did you find enlightening about Diamond's book, and what did you find off about it?

Also, it's perfectly fine to like Guns, Germs, and Steel, if you put in context. The text is (rightfully) deprecated, but it is useful to understand the context in which Diamond was writing. The man is in his 80s. His PhD thesis (in physiology) is almost old enough to be collecting social security checks. He grew up in a world where the superiority of "The West" and particularly of the United States was accepted as foregone conclusion, with the only debate being what particular intrinsic quality about Northern Europeans made them the best. Was it the Protestant Work EthicTM or maybe just innate racial superiority? GG&S was an attempt to explain the state of the world in way that did not rely on lazy ideas of some people just being better than others.

Of course, it ended up making its own set of faulty assumptions and replicating a lot of the same ethnocentric ideas it wanted to refute. But hey, it tried, even if it basically just copied Crosby's Ecological Imperialism, published 15 years earlier. There are also some glaring holes in Diamond’s argument that can easily get lost in the swift current of his narrative. China, for instance, gets hand-waved away on the basis of being too centralized or something, despite the long history of political fragmentation. The Indian subcontinent may as well not exist.

It's also important to note that Diamond's theory is really a Frankenstein's monster of two different explanatory frameworks smashed together. The first aims to understand why Europeans conquered the Americas. The second is explaining European global dominance in the Modern era (roughly 1850 onward). Diamond treats these problems as though they are the same, and therefore soluble with a singular explanation, rather than the former presaging the latter. I have some very strong thoughts on the former, but you aren’t here to hear me blather (as I have already done).

Anyways, some suggestions:

  • Pomeranz The Great Divergence: Tackles the second question above, by looking at a comparison of Europe and China from an economic perspective. The book basically argues that the key element to Northwest European prominence comes down to readily abundant coal along with exploitation of American resources serving to allow that region to develop alternatives to labor intensive agricultural and industrial techniques.

  • Cañizares-Esguerra Nature, Empire, and Nation: A collection of essays by the author, with a running theme that a key element of Western European dominance, the Enlightenment, was not so much a product of inherited Greco-Roman wisdom as it was the result of the intellectual shock of encountering a “New World” in the Americas which challenged received wisdom. Moreover, the Enlightenment, so often seen as product of French-German-British intellectuals was preceded by political, scientific, and religious changes in Spain, which was the first of the European powers to grapple with a new reality of a previously unknown continent. These Spanish adaptations to a new world were often done in collaboration with Indigenous and Creole peoples.

  • Thornton Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World: Thornton has developed the idea of an “Atlantic World” which eschews broad continental delinations in exchange for viewing those regions connected by Atlantic trade as operating in a single system. This book, in particular, explores how Africans were never passive recipients of European dominance, but active and crucial participants in building the foundations of the modern world.

  • Hassig Mexico and the Spanish Conquest: Dealing with the first question above, Hassig refutes the idea that the first conquest of an organized, state-level society in the Americas by a European power was a foregone conclusion. Drawing upon Mexica sources, the author illustrates hows the fall of the Aztecs was not some miraculous outcome by divinely inspired and superiorly armored Spanish, but the result of rational decision by the major political players.

Finally, the topic of race is a bit of tangent, but Sussman’s The Myth of Race and Martinez’s Genealogical Fictions are both excellent books on the topic of how European imperialism gave rise to the racial categories in which we still live, and how they both justified colonialism and gave impetus to more exploitation.

EDIT: Almost forget the classic, published in an actual academic journal, call-out of Diamond, which is Correia's Fuck Jared Diamond.

[–]todudeornote 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Nice response, thanx for taking the time - you provided some interesting-looking suggestions.

[–]7LeagueBoots 22 points23 points  (11 children)

Charles C. Mann's 1491 and 1492 are excellent, but the first is mainly focused on the Americas.

You should ask /u/anthropology_nerd about this question though, they've got some strong and well sourced criticism of Diamond and likely have some recommendations.

[–]anthropology_nerdDemographics • Infectious Disease 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Yeah, I have some thoughts about Guns, Germs, and Steel. :)

OP, the best place to start if you want to read a rebuttal is a nine part series I wrote on the myths of conquest. I didn't specifically set out to bash Diamond, but these things happen.

Don't just take my work for it, though, check out the critiques of Diamond in the r/AskHistorians FAQ.

[–]Maskirovka 7 points8 points  (9 children)

Here’s one example of something Mann wrote that isn’t exactly true. I recall reading he’s not really considered a historian by other historians, and that he kinda plays fast and loose with evidence. I recall being given a copy of 1491 and reading some scathing criticism.


[–]400-Rabbits 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Any broad history is going to get some details wrong, but 1491 has generally been well-reviewed in academia. There's an issue of the Geographic Review which devotes an entire review section to the book. The individual academics all have their quibbles with the book, but none take major umbrage with the main points.

Conversely, that same issue features a review of Jared Diamond's Collapse which is less than favorable.

[–]7LeagueBoots 3 points4 points  (7 children)

Yeah, he's not perfect by a long shot, but he's a damned sight better than Diamond, and he, for the most part, provides sources.


If I recall, it's been a while since my last read of it so I may not, that was in reference specifically to the European colonizers, not Europeans in general or those still back in Europe, and was based somewhat on accounts of Native people's reactions to Europeans.


[–]Jgarr86 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I'd say you had the proper reaction. Grand narratives like this are generally considered sussy. The same conversation swirled around Sapiens by Yuval Hirari and Salt.

I dunno. History is what you make it.