Wengrow asks: Can cognitive science explain the potency of such images? Does evolutionary psychology hold a key to understanding the transmission of symbols? How is our making and perception of images influenced by institutions and technologies? Wengrow considers the work of art in the first age of mechanical reproduction, which he locates in the Middle East, where urban life began. Comparing the development and spread of fantastic imagery across a range of prehistoric and ancient societies, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China, he explores how the visual imagination has been shaped by a complex mixture of historical and universal factors.
Examining the reasons behind the dissemination of monstrous imagery in ancient states and empires, The Origins of Monsters sheds light on the relationship between culture and cognition.
Smith shows that the formation of polities is as much about the process of manufacturing assemblages as it is about disciplining subjects, and that these material objects or "machines" sustain communities, orders, and institutions. The sensibilities, senses, and sentiments connecting people to things enabled political authority during the Bronze Age and fortify political power even in the contemporary world. Smith provides a detailed account of the transformation of communities in the Caucasus, from small-scale early Bronze Age villages committed to egalitarianism, to Late Bronze Age polities predicated on radical inequality, organized violence, and a centralized apparatus of rule.
From Bronze Age traditions of mortuary ritual and divination to current controversies over flag pins and Predator drones, The Political Machine sheds new light on how material goods authorize and defend political order.