The Dawn of Everything: A Roundtable Review – by Ashley L. Cohen

David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). 704 pages. $35.00. ISBN: 9780374157357.

When every day brings more bad news about the prospects for human life on our planet, readers will find a welcome reprieve in David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. With freshness and optimism, Graeber and Wengrow argue against teleological accounts of human civilization that all lead to the same end: complex state formations built on hierarchy and domination. Instead, they show how humans experimented with radically creative and divergent forms of social organization over humanity’s longue durée. It’s only in relatively recent history that humans have become unimaginatively “stuck” in social forms that have come to seem inevitable even as they deny our most basic freedoms.

One of the most remarkable things about The Dawn of Everything is how deeply it engages with the eighteenth century. It is framed by long introductory and concluding chapters on the European Enlightenment. Amongst the book’s boldest claims is a startingly new intellectual genealogy for key Enlightenment ideas about liberty that begins in Indigenous North America. 

The Dawn of Everything could be game changing for scholars of the eighteenth century, but its central claims also need to be tested and evaluated. With both of these ends in mind, I have solicited short response essays from five scholars whose work on the long eighteenth century intersects with key topics in the book: Robbie Richardson (Princeton University), Christen Mucher (Smith College), Tony C. Brown (University of Minnesota), Blanca Missé (San Francisco State University), and Stephanie DeGooyer (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill). I introduce this roundtable with my own essay below.

Ashley L. Cohen is Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern California, CA


The Reenchantment of Humanity – by Ashley L. Cohen

The Indigenous Critique – by Robbie Richardson

Radical Enlightenment – by Blanca Missé

Yes, We Do Know Everything – by Tony C. Brown

Big History – by Stephanie DeGooyer

Freeing our Historical Imaginations – by Christen Mucher

Cite this note as: Ashley L. Cohen, “The Dawn of Everything: A Roundtable ReviewJournal18 (July 2023),

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