Against the Grain is both a wide-ranging voyage of discovery and a regionally focused study of the trajectory of agriculture from its earliest appearance until historical times, coupled with discussion of the mechanisms that maintained early states. For Scott, the state is a fragile entity (pp. 21, 23, 118, 125) based on the production of grain, along with water transport, city walls, tax collection, specialized administrators, monumental centres, kings, social hierarchy, filth, epidemic disease and an insatiable demand for enslaved labour. With such a definition, there is a little hope that the societies of Eurasian pastoral nomads can be seen as anything other than ‘barbarians’ living outside the laws and hierarchies of agricultural states. It is these Eurasian nomadic pastoralists and their relations with the state that will form the focus of this commentary.