James C. Scott's written account studies how first agrarian states were born of accumulations of domestications as a way of gaining control of reproduction, which contradicts the standard narrative about earliest civilizations.
In his sparkling new book, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, Scott makes his case by tracing, step by unholy step, how human beings were led first into the agricultural fields and then into the domain of the state, bringing a vast set of conscripts into the army of supposed advancement ...if you view history as an unalterable dialectic of state oppression and ordinary resistance, inevitably you will also wonder how it got started — and whether it was inevitable. This genealogical task is the central ambition of Scott’s new book ...a lot more is going on in Against the Grain than a book report: Scott believes that he has made several advances thanks to his outsider status, and he has unmistakably imported a prior intellectual project — the prosecution of the state — into the literature about how the first examples of it were born.
In Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, James C. Scott, a professor of political science at Yale, presents a plausible contender for the most important piece of technology in the history of man ... We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period — ninety-five per cent of human history — during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers ...extends these ideas into the deep past, and draws on existing research to argue that ours is not a story of linear progress, that the time line is much more complicated, and that the causal sequences of the standard version are wrong ... These events are usually spoken of as 'collapses,' but Scott invites us to scrutinize that term, too.
...Mr. Scott set about self-improvement, and Against the Grain displays a lively mind and impish spirit with occasional insights, challenges and teases ...the book echoes familiar disavowals of 'civilized' prejudices. Agriculture undermined health, caused famines, and empowered tyranny, he writes...for a purported expert who claims to be 'condensing the best knowledge,' he does not know enough about his subject ...book’s second fatal flaw is its misleading invocation of the 'earliest' states ...asserts, repeatedly and trenchantly, that sedentism and agriculture are essential for statehood ... Mr. Scott devotes a chapter to his assumption that early agrarian states were short-lived.