Mobile groups traded health and happiness for settled societies
Maler der Grabkammer des Menna/Wikimedia Commons
Against the Grain
James C. Scott
Yale Univ., $26
Contrary to popular opinion, humans didn’t shed a harsh existence as hunter-gatherers and herders for the good life of stay-in-place farming. Year-round farming villages and early agricultural states, such as those that cropped up in Mesopotamia, exchanged mobile groups’ healthy lifestyles for the back-breaking drudgery of cultivating crops, exposure to infectious diseases, inadequate diets, taxes and conscription into armies.
In Against the Grain, political anthropologist James C. Scott offers a disturbing but enlightening defense of that position. He draws on past and recent archaeological studies indicating that the emergence of state-run societies around 6,000 years ago