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.
Scott, an anthropologist and political scientist, has never wielded a trowel, but his research is extraordinarily meticulous and detailed, and the lives of his imagined first citizens are unlike anything existing today. His analysis implies that the history of the metropolis has been marked by one long struggle by ordinary citizens to free themselves from oppression ... Against the Grain deserves a wide readership. It has made me look afresh at the urban world. Now when I see monumental architecture, I think of the workers who in many cases literally slaved over its construction. And, having been awakened to the concept, I see cases of near-politicide everywhere, from the growing inequality of wealth in our societies, to the taxpayer-funded bank bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis. If Scott is right about the world’s first citizens, then cities and their inhabitants have been on quite a journey.