The Dawn of Everything Book Club

How did our distant ancestors live? And what can this tell us about our contemporary world? Drawing on wide-ranging research in archaeology and anthropology, The Dawn of Everything is an ambitious attempt to overturn the conventional narrative about human history, including the origins of farming, property, cities, and democracy, and replace it with a more accurate, interesting, and unpredictable story.

This event series will feature experts from across the UW-Madison campus providing their assessment of the book and how it might change the way we think about and teach the deep past as well as what it tells us about the present. We will meet at 4pm starting Wednesday, February 15. Register below to take part.

Thank you to the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and the Department of Anthropology at UW-Madison for co-sponsoring this event series.

Resources & Supplemental Reading

See how different Historians reviewed Dawn:



Stephen Young

Credentials: Faculty Director, IRIS NRC

Position title: Associate Professor, Geography & International Studies

Nam Kim

Credentials: Director, Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Position title: Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Sarah Clayton

Position title: Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Mark Kenoyer

Position title: Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Patrick Iber

Position title: Associate Professor of History, UW-Madison

Katherine Robiadek

Position title: Assistant Professor of Political Science, Hood College

Sissel Schroeder

Position title: Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Session 2: The Revolution that Never Happened?

Recommended reading: Chapters 3-7.

Some 10,000 years ago, the first ‘Agricultural Revolution’ decisively and irreversibly changed the trajectory of humankind forever. Or did it? Graeber & Wengrow instead present an account of a partial and contingent process whereby farming practices were taken up and rejected in different parts of the world over the course of thousands of years. In this session, we will examine the evidence they leverage and its implications for how we understand history.

Wednesday, February 22 2023, 4pm

Session 3: Cities, Scale, and Political Hierarchy

Recommended reading: Chapters 8-9.

It is often assumed that as societies become more dense and complex, top-down forms of governance inevitably emerge in order to maintain order. Drawing on evidence from Mesoamerica, Ukraine, China, and the Indus Valley, Graber & Wengrow argue that the story is far more complex. In this session, we will assess their argument and what it means for our understanding of ancient cities.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023, 4pm

Session 4: The Deep Past and the Political Present

Recommended reading: Chapters 10-12.

If our distant ancestors really did invent a wide variety of different political formations, why is it so difficult to imagine political alternatives in the present? In this final session, we will examine some of the key insights and limitations of the book for our understanding of the past. We will also ask how this might inspire us to rethink the political challenges we face today.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023, 4pm