100 books like The Dawn of Everything

By David Graeber, David Wengrow,

Here are 100 books that The Dawn of Everything fans have personally recommended if you like The Dawn of Everything. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

Michael Barone Author Of Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America's Revolutionary Leaders

From my list on the struggles of the early America republic.

Who am I?

My friend Lou Cannon, the great reporter and Reagan biographer, once told me, “if you want to really learn about a subject, write a book about it.” As a political journalist and author of several books about current and past politics,  wanted to learn more about the Founding Fathers, and as a map buff I tried to understand how they understood a continent most of which was not accurately mapped and how they envisioned the geographic limits and reach of a new republic more extensive in size than most nations in Europe. The book is my attempt to share what I learned with readers, and to invite them to read more about these extraordinary leaders.

Michael's book list on the struggles of the early America republic

Michael Barone Why did Michael love this book?

In recent years we have often heard it said that the United States is, for the first time in history, a diverse society.

David Hackett Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed illustrates how not only the United States but the British seaboard colonies had enormous cultural diversity, based on the different regional origins in the British Isles of the bulk of their settlers.

The Founders knew this already: John Adams of Massachusetts nominated George Washington of Virginia to be commander of the Continental Army, because he understood that the Revolution needed support beyond New England, and Washington as commander soon learned that leading prickly Yankee New Englanders required different tactics than leading deferential Anglican Virginians. 

By David Hackett Fischer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Albion's Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eighty percent of Americans have no British ancestors. According to David Hackett Fischer, however, their day-to-day lives are profoundly influenced by folkways transplanted from Britain to the New World with the first settlers. Residual, yet persistent, aspects of these 17th Century folkways are indentifiable, Fischer argues, in areas as divers as politics, education, and attitudes towards gender, sexuality, age, and child-raising. Making use of both traditional
and revisionist scholarship, this ground-breaking work documents how each successive wave of early emigration-Puritans to the North-East; Royalist aristocrats to the South; the Friends to the Delaware Valley; Irish and North Britons to the…


Book cover of The Denial of Death

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Who am I?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever read a book that literally changed your life? I have, and that book is The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1974.

Becker’s basic thesis is that the institution of “culture” has evolved not so much to facilitate our physical survival (the orthodox viewpoint), but rather, as an elaborate symbolic framework that psychologically protects us from our species’ unique awareness of our own inevitable mortality, both individually and collectively.

Becker basically blew the top of my head off when I first read him during my PhD work in the mid-Oughts, and he remains a major influence on my teaching and research to this day.

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work,The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.


Book cover of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Dan Moller Author Of The Way of Bach: Three Years with the Man, the Music, and the Piano

From my list on Bach, music, and the piano.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland interested in politics, ethics, and art. Philosophers are often unpopular loners who are passionate about their ideas, and so are musicians like Bach. When I teach Socrates and the trial that led to his death I can’t help but think of Bach, who was rejected from job after job in favor of mediocrities, and whose music was considered offensive by parishioners and obsolete by musicians by the end of his life. These figures endear themselves to me not just because of the ideas themselves, but because they had to fight so hard for what they believed in.

Dan's book list on Bach, music, and the piano

Dan Moller Why did Dan love this book?

This book picks up where Evening in the Palace of Reason leaves off, with Bach composing the Musical Offering on a horrible theme from King Frederick.

It explains canons and fugues, and thus helps you understand Bach’s work better, but it then goes on a safari through the intellectual landscape of ideas related to fugues–strange loops, self-similarity, recursion, and of course the guys in the title. It’s not for everyone, but if you like any two of logic, philosophy, or music, give this a try.

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Gödel, Escher, Bach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Douglas Hofstadter's book is concerned directly with the nature of maps" or links between formal systems. However, according to Hofstadter, the formal system that underlies all mental activity transcends the system that supports it. If life can grow out of the formal chemical substrate of the cell, if consciousness can emerge out of a formal system of firing neurons, then so too will computers attain human intelligence. Goedel, Escher, Bach is a wonderful exploration of fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science: meaning, reduction, recursion, and much more.


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

Fernanda Pirie Author Of The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

From my list on making us rethink global history.

Who am I?

I'm an anthropologist on a mission to discover how people have used, and abused, law over the past 4,000 years. After a decade in a wig and gown at the London Bar, I headed back to university to pursue a long-standing interest in Tibetan culture. I spent two years living with remote villagers and nomads, freezing over dung fires, herding yaks, and learning about traditional legal practices. Now, based at the University of Oxford, I’ve turned to legal history, comparing ancient Tibetan texts with examples from all over the world. The Rule of Laws brings a long sweep of legal history and its fascinating diversity to a wide audience.

Fernanda's book list on making us rethink global history

Fernanda Pirie Why did Fernanda love this book?

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.

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…


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

Fernanda Pirie Author Of The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

From my list on making us rethink global history.

Who am I?

I'm an anthropologist on a mission to discover how people have used, and abused, law over the past 4,000 years. After a decade in a wig and gown at the London Bar, I headed back to university to pursue a long-standing interest in Tibetan culture. I spent two years living with remote villagers and nomads, freezing over dung fires, herding yaks, and learning about traditional legal practices. Now, based at the University of Oxford, I’ve turned to legal history, comparing ancient Tibetan texts with examples from all over the world. The Rule of Laws brings a long sweep of legal history and its fascinating diversity to a wide audience.

Fernanda's book list on making us rethink global history

Fernanda Pirie Why did Fernanda love this book?

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.

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…


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

Ben Stanger Author Of From One Cell: A Journey into Life's Origins and the Future of Medicine

From my list on science written by scientists.

Who am I?

I am a Harvard- and MIT-trained physician-scientist, and I am drawn to research problems that bridge the basic and the practical – how a better understanding of cells and tissues can inform new therapies for cancer and other diseases. As children, we are all scientists – mini-hypothesis generators trying to make sense of the world. I suppose I never outgrew that curiosity. My list of best science books credits writers who bring to life the excitement that comes from looking at the natural world in a new way, a spirit that I try to emulate in my own writing. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!

Ben's book list on science written by scientists

Ben Stanger Why did Ben love this book?

I can’t think of a better tale of discovery written by a scientist than Shubin’s engaging account of the unearthing of Tiktaalik, the first fish to walk on land.

I remember reading about the find on the front page of The New York Times, and this book is the backstory. By weaving his own boots-on-the-ground experience as a paleontologist with a highly approachable background on the relevant biology, Shubin us a front row seat to one of the most important events in evolution. 

By Neil Shubin,

Why should I read it?

3 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…


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

Ngoc Minh Ngo Author Of In Bloom: Creating and Living With Flowers

From my list on why everyone loves gardening.

Who am I?

I am a photographer of gardens and botanical still-lifes. I have a passion for plants and flowers and love reading about their historical and cultural significance. I am always curious about the meanings that humankind has ascribed to flowers in different cultures and eras. I have written and photographed three books that revolve around my passion for flowers.

Ngoc's book list on why everyone loves gardening

Ngoc Minh Ngo Why did Ngoc love this book?

Another author of wide-ranging intellect, Pollan takes us through the history of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato from the viewpoint of the plants. The chapters on the apple and the tulip are my favorites. Pollan has me looking at my favorite flowers in new ways – rose and peony, in his view, are Dionysian flowers, “deeply sensual” while the tulip is Apollonian, all clarity and order. But beauty, as defined by the Greeks, is when “Apollonian form and Dionysian ecstasy are held in balance,” thus the most beautiful flowers are “the ones that partake of their opposing elements.” Pollan’s brief history of flowers ends with an idea that forms the basis of my work: “There, somehow, both transcendence and necessity. Could that be it–right there, in a flower–the meaning of life?”

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…


Book cover of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson Author Of The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone's Well-Being

From my list on busting common myths about our human nature.

Who are we?

We are social epidemiologists trying to understand how the societies we live in affect our health. Together, we try to communicate our scientific research to politicians and policy-makers, but even more importantly to everyone who is curious about how our worlds shape our wellbeing and who want to work together for positive change.  We co-founded a UK charity, The Equality Trust, to build a social movement for a more equal society, and we are Global Ambassadors for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, an international collaboration of organisations and individuals working to transform economic systems.

Kate's book list on busting common myths about our human nature

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson Why did Kate love this book?

We’ve often been inspired by the insights that Sapolsky has drawn from his years of fieldwork with baboons in Africa, but this book is grander in scope than his previous work, it’s a tour de force examination of human nature and behaviour.

From one of the best natural history writers of our time, neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky draws on his deep expertise to trace the biological and evolutionary origins of our human capacity for two different kinds of behavioural strategy:  morality, reconciliation and peace versus aggression, tribalism, and war. 

By Robert M. Sapolsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The New York Times Bestseller

"It's no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read." -David P. Barash, The Wall Street Journal

"It has my vote for science book of the year." -Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"Hands-down one of the best books I've read in years. I loved it." -Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal

From the celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist, a landmark, genre-defining examination of human behavior, both good and bad, and an answer to…


Book cover of Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them

Matt Zandstra Author Of PHP 8 Objects, Patterns, and Practice: Mastering OO Enhancements, Design Patterns, and Essential Development Tools

From my list on non-fiction that turn their topics upside down.

Who am I?

Software developers love to question the assumptions that underpin their practice. Some of the most exciting phases of my career have come about as a result of such questions. Often they are revolutionary in the literal sense that they ask you to turn your thinking upside down – to design systems from the bottom up rather than the top down, for example, or to write your tests before your components. I may not adopt every practice, but each challenge enriches the conceptual world in which I work. Over the years, I have come to look for similar shifts and inversions across other subject areas. Here are some recommendations from my reading.

Matt's book list on non-fiction that turn their topics upside down

Matt Zandstra Why did Matt love this book?

I must have read a hundred books about story structure over the years. Somehow, perhaps because of some story-related blind spot on my part, none of them ever seemed to stick.

My problem was always the middle. Middles can sag. It seems that a story's interior becomes little more than the wasteland a protagonist must traverse to get from the mystery of a beginning to the ultimate challenge of an ending.

Yorke's Into The Woods celebrates the middle. He reminds us that the essential crux of a story lies in its midpoint. Right at the heart of an effective story, he argues, lies a fundamental transformation, a change so great that the protagonist emerges with new powers into a new world.

Furthermore, by analysing stories in five acts rather than three, he allows for an elegant symmetry in which the first and fifth, second, and fourth acts mirror one another.…

By John Yorke,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Into The Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The best book on the subject I've read. Quite brilliant' Tony Jordan, creator/writer, Life on Mars, Hustle

We all love stories. But why do we tell them? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way? John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers' Academy, has brought a vast array of drama to British screens. Here he takes us on a journey to the heart of storytelling, revealing that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative forms - one that echoes the fairytale journey into the woods and, like any great art, comes from deep within. From ancient…


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

Noel Keough Author Of Sustainability Matters: Prospects for a Just Transition in Calgary, Canada’s Petro-City

From my list on myth demonstrating why sustainability matters.

Who am I?

Injustice has always motivated my research and activism. I have always been fascinated by nature and by the complexity of cities. For 25 years I have pursued these passions through the lens of sustainability. In 1996, I co-founded the not-for-profit Sustainable Calgary Society. My extensive work and travel in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, have given me a healthy skepticism of the West’s dominant cultural myths of superiority and benevolence and a keen awareness of the injustice of the global economic order. My book selections shed light on these myths and suggest alternative stories of where we come from, who we are, and who we might become. 

Noel's book list on myth demonstrating why sustainability matters

Noel Keough Why did Noel love this book?

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.

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…


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