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The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

SKU: 9781610397964
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From language to culture to cultural collision: the story of how humans invented history, from the Stone Age to the Virtual Age
Traveling across millennia, weaving the experiences and world views of cultures both extinct and extant, The Invention of Yesterday shows that the engine of history is not so much heroic (battles won), geographic (farmers thrive), or anthropogenic (humans change the planet) as it is narrative.
Many thousands of years ago, when we existed only as countless small autonomous bands of hunter-gatherers widely distributed through the wilderness, we began inventing stories--to organize for survival, to find purpose and meaning, to explain the unfathomable. Ultimately these became the basis for empires, civilizations, and cultures. And when various narratives began to collide and overlap, the encounters produced everything from confusion, chaos, and war to cultural efflorescence, religious awakenings, and intellectual breakthroughs.
Through vivid stories studded with insights, Tamim Ansary illuminates the world-historical consequences of the unique human capacity to invent and communicate abstract ideas. In doing so, he also explains our ever-more-intertwined present: the narratives now shaping us, the reasons we still battle one another, and the future we may yet create.


Tamim Ansary was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and came to the United States as a junior in high school. Culture and cultural perspective have been among his lifelong preoccupations. His new book, The Invention of Yesterday, looks at world history as the story of ever-increasing human interconnectedness: history from the perspective of the emerging global "we". Ansary has also written a history of the world through Islamic eyes, a history of Afghanistan from an insider's point of view, a literary memoir about straddling a cultural fault line in the world (Islam and the West), a historical novel set against the background of the First Anglo-Afghan war, and some 30 nonfiction books for children. In Road Trips, he tells the story of morphing from an Afghan into an American just as the sixties were giving way to the seventies. Ansary's Destiny Disrupted won the Northern California Book Award for nonfiction in 2009, and his first memoir West of Kabul, East of New York was selected as a One City One Book pick by both San Francisco and Waco, Texas. In 2001, an email he sent to 20 friends reputedly became the first viral phenomenon of the Internet Age, reaching tens of millions around the world within days.


"A beautifully written world history focused on the stories different civilizations have told about who we are. It ends with a fundamental question: In today's extraordinary world, can we build new narratives that are inclusive and global enough to encourage worldwide cooperation in the task of building a better future for humanity?"
David Christian, distinguished professor, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History and Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

"Tamim Ansary has done it again, writing an expansive, wonderfully readable account of our present world. With deft examples drawn from across history, he skewers the idea that there's anything pure about culture or race. Ideas have blended and meshed across space and time to make the modern world what it is. Ansary is a charming guide to this blesh of civilizations, and to the world's permanent-and hopeful-capacity for change."
Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

"Brimming with essential insights and yet always approachable, this is the global history we need now."
Lynn Hunt, author of Writing History in the Global Era

"Weaving together multiple complex strands of the human experience into a single compelling storyline, Ansary delivers-in his usual down-to-earth yet erudite style-an engaging global 'narrative of narratives' informed by decades of critical study, reflection, and personal transcultural experience. A deeply enriching, highly relevant read from an important, unique voice of our day."
R. Charles Weller, Central Eurasian and Islamic world history, Washington State and Kazakh National University

"The Invention of Yesterday is an insightful guide into human civilization packed with information that shows how we have been connected globally since the beginning of history. Tamim Ansary unpacks complicated theories to make sense of how we became who we are today."
Fariba Nawa, author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman's Journey through Afghanistan

"Ansary offers a remarkable big-picture synthesis that draws upon geography but resists determinism, and celebrates diversity while embracing humanity's commonalities."

Praise for Destiny Disrupted:

"Ansary has written an informative and thoroughly engaging look at the past, present and future of Islam. With his seamless and charming prose, he challenges conventional wisdom and appeals for a fuller understanding of how Islam and the world at large have shaped each other. And that makes this book, in this uneasy, contentious post 9/11 world, a must-read."
Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Praise for Games without Rules

"In "Games Without Rules," Tamim Ansary has written the most engaging, accessible and insightful history of Afghanistan. With gifted prose and revealing details, Ansary gives us the oft-neglected Afghan perspective of the wars, foreign meddling and palace intrigue that has defined the past few centuries between the Indus and Oxus. This brilliant book should be required reading for anyone involved in the current war there -- and anyone who wants to understand why Afghanistan will not be at peace anytime soon."
Rajiv Chandrasekaran