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The Invention of Prehistory

Nonfiction: History
Unabridged   15.5 hour(s)
Publication date: 04/02/2024

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The Invention of Prehistory

Empire, Violence, and Our Obsession with Human Origins

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Digital Download ISBN:9781696615365


An eminent historian tells the story of how we came to obsess over the origins of humanity—and how, for three centuries, ideas of prehistory have been used to justify devastating violence against others.

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Product Description

Books about the origins of humanity dominate bestseller lists, while national newspapers present breathless accounts of new archaeological findings and speculate about what those findings tell us about our earliest ancestors. We are obsessed with prehistory—and, in this respect, our current era is no different from any other in the last three hundred years. In this coruscating work, acclaimed historian Stefanos Geroulanos demonstrates how claims about the earliest humans not only shaped Western intellectual culture, but gave rise to our modern world.

The very idea that there was a human past before recorded history only emerged with the Enlightenment, when European thinkers began to reject faith-based notions of humanity and history in favor of supposedly more empirical ideas about the world. From the "state of nature" and Romantic notions of virtuous German barbarians to theories about Neanderthals, killer apes, and a matriarchal paradise where women ruled, Geroulanos captures the sheer variety and strangeness of the ideas that animated many of the major thinkers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx. Yet as Geroulanos shows, such ideas became, for the most part, the ideological foundations of repressive regimes and globe-spanning empires.


"Narrator Elizabeth Wiley is a gifted enunciator, adept at delivering the full weight and value of every word. . . . Deeply satisfying and highly stimulating on a single listen, this thought-provoking narrative rewards repeated listening." —AudioFile

AudioFile Earphones Award Winner

Author Bio

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, New York.