The Invention of Prehistory: Empire, Violence, and Our Obsession with Human Origins

Product Details
$29.99  $27.89
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
6.37 X 9.14 X 1.32 inches | 1.76 pounds

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About the Author
Stefanos Geroulanos is the Director of the Remarque Institute and a Professor of History at New York University. The author of Transparency in Postwar France: A Critical History of the Present and other books, he lives in New York, NY.
In a brilliant masterstroke, Stefanos Geroulanos turns the tables on those shining a lamp on human origins, documenting how they have always held up a mirror to themselves and their own times. . . . [T]his magnificent book reminds us that inquiry is always political--and that the continuing fashion of exploring the birth of civilization and the dawn of everything has the darkest roots.--Samuel Moyn, author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War
The strength of Mr. Geroulanos's book lies in its breadth. It ranges easily from the pseudoscience of Freud and Jung (for both of whom idiosyncratic notions of prehistory were important) to Nazi obsessions with origins, Unesco debates about racism and modern feminist strains of social theory. Mr. Geroulanos has a good ear for prose and a knack for defamiliarizing expressions that should seem stranger: His pages on the phrase 'the thin veneer of civilization, ' for example, are extraordinary. The book is lavishly and thoughtfully supplied with illustrations that enrich the discussion. . . . The problem of prehistory remains enormous, indeed, and it is humbling to be reminded of its abuses. Mr. Geroulanos has done so vividly.--Kyle Harper "Wall Street Journal"
Stunningly comprehensive... The author clearly shows how Eurocentric standards still prevail in how we organize history, and he concentrates much of his prodigious research on the power of language in determining our "epic myths"--e.g., the use of the term primitive in characterizing Indigenous peoples and thus justifying exploitation and extermination.... Consistently illuminating... Geroulanos effectively exposes how little separates modern humans from the idea of the 'barbarian.' An astute, powerfully rendered history of humanity.--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
[O]riginal and exciting . . . dazzling . . . ends with an impassionate call for radical modesty. It is time for us to admit that we simply do not know the deep past and cannot comprehend the 'ecstasies and feelings and terrors' that our predecessors experienced. This recognition will then allow us to root advocacy for solidarity and equality on firmer grounds.--Udi Greenberg "New Republic"
Geroulanos has done a redoubtable job of showing the ways in which the study of the human past has been deformed by prejudice, mythmaking, and outright racism.--Jacob Mikanowski "Chronicle of Higher Education"
Stefanos Geroulanos reveals how the quest for human origins emerged from the imperial mandate--to possess the earth and control its peoples. His subtle, passionate book steers us away from an unreal past and toward an equal, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.--Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing
The idea that some people have stayed behind in a savage state while others have ascended to civilization has caused and continues to cause immense suffering for those supposed to be human animals, bombed back to the Stone Age or otherwise disappeared from history. Covering an enormous territory from Rousseau to Wakanda, displaying a firework of erudition, written with verve, The Invention of Prehistory will be a milestone on the path to a less destructive relation to the deep past.--Andreas Malm, author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Nimbly moving across a great expanse of space and time, The Invention of Prehistory dismantles our most widely accepted ideas about the origins of humanity. This is intellectual history as it should be written: serene in its mastery of intransigent material, yet endlessly provocative in argument, and ultimately fatal to long-cherished assumptions and prejudices.--Pankaj Mishra, author of Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire
An incisive and captivating reassessment of prehistory . . . In lucid prose, Geroulanos unspools an enthralling and detailed history of the development of modern natural science. It's a must-read.--Publishers Weekly, starred review
In this remarkable and enlivening study, Stefanos Geroulanos traces the development of our modern fascination with humanity's deep past, and lays out that fascination's deadly costs.--Amia Srinivasan, author of The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century
History may not be bunk, but prehistory is: So argues Stefanos Geroulanos in his spirited new book... The more you want to upend the status quo, the more likely you'll be to venerate an idyllic past. The reverse is also true: The more you want to preserve the status quo, the more likely you'll be to scorn the past as horrific -- or, at least, unsustainable. Geroulanos traces the long history of Europeans depicting Indigenous and colonized peoples as 'savage' -- thereby rationalizing every violent measure used against them, from brutality to annihilation.--Jennifer Szalai "New York Times"