Books et al.Human History

The perils of permanence

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 459
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao0427

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What if we stretch the timeline of human civilization beyond the first evidence of cultivated seed to include the first use of fire? And what if, in evaluating our upward trek to civilization, we take into consideration some of the prob­lems we have encountered along the way? In Against the Grain, James C. Scott considers these and other questions about early societies, focusing mainly on the hunters and foragers of Mesopotamia. Although some of his "hunches" about their role in the history of the earliest states seem spur of the mo­ment, his thesis—that they had good reason to resist permanent settlement—is fascinating and represents an al­ternative, nuanced, if somewhat speculative, scenario on how civi­lized society came into being