10 books like The Dawn of Everything

By David Graeber, David Wengrow,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Dawn of Everything. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Against the Grain

By James C. Scott,

Book cover of Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Scott takes us through the evidence of the earliest hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies and asks why anyone ever allowed rulers to amass power and centralize control of resources. The evidence is that farmers flourished for centuries without letting anyone lord it over them. Why, then, does agriculture seem to have led to the rise of the state? Readable and compelling, Scott's latest book makes a really convincing case against the benefits, and inevitability, of the state.

Against the Grain

By James C. Scott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Against the Grain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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…


The Master and His Emissary

By Iain McGilchrist,

Book cover of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Philosopher and psychiatrist McGilchrist presented a bold thesis about the working of the human mind. It has profound implications for the way we understand human societies. We’ve long known that the two halves of the brain perform different functions but, using approachable case studies and clearly presenting the science, the first half of the book argues that the left, more rational, part of the brain is dangerously dominant. Controlling and grasping, it needs to remain subordinate to the more inclusive, humane, and intuitive functions of the right brain. McGilchrist goes on to trace the consequences for the development of human societies and their problems. The ideas linger, relevant to practically all aspects of our lives.

The Master and His Emissary

By Iain McGilchrist,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Master and His Emissary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A pioneering exploration of the differences between the brain's right and left hemispheres and their effects on society, history, and culture-"one of the few contemporary works deserving classic status" (Nicholas Shakespeare, The Times, London)

"Persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative 'master' the right. Brilliant and disturbing."-Salley Vickers, a Guardian Best Book of the Year

"I know of no better exposition of the current state of functional brain neuroscience."-W. F. Bynum, TLS

Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been…


Your Inner Fish

By Neil Shubin,

Book cover of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

From hiccups to hernias, the human body is rife with apparent design flaws. Why? Evolution, as it’s understood today, isn’t a ladder to perfection, and we humans can’t completely shake the anatomy of our distant ancestors – fish. Shubin describes his own work on Tiktaalik, a species that took part in the transition from fish to land animals. Its fossils hold clues to the evolution of our bodies – from the structure of our bones and joints to our organs and tissues. 

This unusual look at our evolution is a reminder that while humans evolved from some common ape-like animal, our evolutionary path goes back to the very origin of life, and along the way, we incorporated many anatomical quirks that benefitted creatures with very different lifestyles. 

Your Inner Fish

By Neil Shubin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Your Inner Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells a “compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human” (Oliver Sacks).

By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible…


The Botany of Desire

By Michael Pollan,

Book cover of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

This is number one on my list. Exceptional in every sense, from the almost poetic language used to describe plant-human interactions to the ability to put a specific plant species (from apples to potatoes) in historical context. It is transformative. A plants-eye view of humans and their botanical favorites.

The Botany of Desire

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Botany of Desire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A farmer cultivates genetically modified potatoes so that a customer at McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden french fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the autumn and in the spring has a riotous patch of colour to admire. Two simple examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? In blending history, memoir and…


The City in History

By Lewis Mumford,

Book cover of The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects

This book is important at a time when cities are too often presented unproblematically as the solution to global crises like the climate emergency. Mumford gives a broad historical sweep of cities from their very beginnings and a non-sentimental examination of the prospects of this now-dominant form of human settlement. The book was an instant classic and remains so—often referenced but unfortunately less often read. Mumford went out of favour in the 1970s, in my opinion, in part because his is a critical examination of the role of cities, not a hagiography. Mumford clearly loves the city at its best as ‘a magnifier of all the dimensions of life,’ but he does not shrink from examining cities’ amplification and consolidation of political and economic power, often to humanity’s detriment.

The City in History

By Lewis Mumford,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The City in History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD. A definitive classic, Lewis Mumford's massive historical study brings together a wide array of evidence — from the earliest group habitats to medieval towns to the modern centers of commerce — to show how the urban form has changed throughout human civilization.
Mumford explores the factors that made Greek cities uniques and offers a controversial view of the Roman city concept. He explains how the role of monasticism influenced Christian towns and how mercanitile capitalism shapes the modern city today.
The City in History remains a powerfully influential work, one that has shaped the…


Imperial San Francisco

By Gray Brechin,

Book cover of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

San Francisco the good, an icon of diversity, creativity, and prosperity, is how I imagined the city. This book weaves a compelling, alternative narrative. Brechin tells his story through the rising fortunes of founding fathers–politicians, engineers, and entrepreneursmany today memorialized in San Francisco’s public spaces and places. People like media tycoon William Randolph Hearst Jr. with all his narcissism, wealth, and political ambition (remind you of anyone?). The book unearths the city’s beginnings in the rapacious extraction of resources in frontier California. It illustrates (through art, newspaper cartoons, and headlines) the city as the spearhead of an emerging empire with all of its racist and white supremacist roots. The book chronicles the trauma inflicted on nature and nations that stood in the way of San Francisco’s ambition. It demands that we reflect on ‘the stuff’ our great cities are made of.

Imperial San Francisco

By Gray Brechin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Imperial San Francisco as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1999, this celebrated history of San Francisco traces the exploitation of both local and distant regions by prominent families - the Hearsts, de Youngs, Spreckelses, and others - who gained power through mining, ranching, water and energy, transportation, real estate, weapons, and the mass media. The story uncovered by Gray Brechin is one of greed and ambition on an epic scale. Brechin arrives at a new way of understanding urban history as he traces the connections between environment, economy, and technology and discovers links that led, ultimately, to the creation of the atomic bomb and the nuclear…


Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos

By Dennis Overbye,

Book cover of Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe

If you’ve ever wondered how the universe could have originated from a speck and expanded in a big bang, or why scientists came to believe such a thing, this book explains it all in an accessible, gripping story. Overbye, who is a science writer for the New York Times, paints a sweeping history of big bang cosmology through the colorful characters who put it together in the second half of the 20th century. The story revolves around astronomer Allan Sandage, who was a student of the famed Edwin Hubble. After Hubble discovered that the stars were arranged in galaxies that were speeding away from each other, he died, leaving Sandage to finish his quest to understand the implications of this expansion, measure the age of the universe, and determine whether the cosmos is eternally spreading out into an ever more sparse and lonely place.  

Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos

By Dennis Overbye,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In southern California, nearly a half century ago, a small band of researchers -- equipped with a new 200-inch telescope and a faith born of scientific optimism -- embarked on the greatest intellectual adventure in the history of humankind: the search for the origin and fate of the universe. Their quest would eventually engulf all of physics and astronomy, leading not only to the discovery of quasars, black holes, and shadow matter but also to fame, controversy, and Nobel Prizes. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos tells the story of the men and women who have taken eternity on their shoulders…


Nobel Dreams

By Gary Taubes,

Book cover of Nobel Dreams: Power, Deceit and the Ultimate Experiment

A journey into the way particle physics reveals the structure of inner space, told through the dramatic competition between two teams of physicists using the world’s first supercollider at CERN. The goal was to find two theoretical but never detected particles called the W and Z bosons. Jealousy, overbearing personalities, and the rush for glory.

Nobel Dreams

By Gary Taubes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nobel Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A renowned science writer examines the work being done by high-energy physicists in their quest to understand how the universe began, what it is made of, and where it is headed


The Silk Roads

By Peter Frankopan,

Book cover of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Even more than the oil curse, the location curse is key to understanding the Middle East. Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads is one of the best explorations of what imperial geographers identified as Eurasia, the ancient, much-fought-over land bridge between west and east running from the eastern Mediterranean to the Himalayas of which the modern construct of the “Middle East” is only one, sadly reduced part. Frankopan looks away from today’s association with regimes that are unstable, violent threats to international security and/or human rights, and popularly perceived as somehow peripheral to the interests of the West—to its historic center at the crossroads of civilization.

By tracing the evolution of the vitally interconnected trade routes known as the “Silk Roads", from conveying Chinese luxury goods and Turkic slaves to gold and silver, Iranian oil and Ukrainian wheat, Mongolian rare earths, and transcontinental telecommunications links, he shows how the region has…

The Silk Roads

By Peter Frankopan,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Silk Roads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The No. 1 Sunday Times and international bestseller - a major reassessment of world history in light of the economic and political renaissance in the re-emerging east For centuries, fame and fortune was to be found in the west - in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the east which calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce and culture - and is shaping the modern world. This region, the…


In Small Things Forgotten

By James Deetz,

Book cover of In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life

Originally published in 1977, this book has inspired four, maybe five, generations of archaeologists and enthusiasts of early American history. It is a model for how to write elegant stories based on groundbreaking research. And it has yet to be surpassed. I count myself a "granddaughter" of Jim Deetz, a founding figure of historical archaeology – that hybrid of history and archaeology focused on the "modern" world, from the invention of the printing press to the present. If you are curious about what everyday life was like in colonial America for regular people, start here. In Small Things offers a tangible history of human experiences that would otherwise be forgotten.

In Small Things Forgotten

By James Deetz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Small Things Forgotten as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating study of American life and an explanation of how American life is studied through the everyday details of ordinary living, colorfully depicting a world hundreds of years in the past.

History is recorded in many ways. According to  author James Deetz, the past can be seen most fully by studying the small things so often forgotten.  Objects such as doorways, gravestones, musical  instruments, and even shards of pottery fill in the  cracks between large historical events and depict the intricacies of daily life. In his completely revised and expanded edition of In Small Things Forgotten, Deetz has added…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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