Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
A strange and fascinating book that uses the mystery of Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in New Guinea to trace the author (and our societies) fraught relationship with indigenous peoples. Was Rockerfeller killed? Was he eaten? Did he kind of have it coming? In the first fifty pages, I was nervous this was going to be great white man explains humble brown people, but as the book progresses, it becomes much more than that. That isn’t to say the book isn’t at heart the story of white men’s attempt to explain brown people. It is, but it’s a nuanced, complication take on the idea. At first I was bored / turned off, but I needed the book fascinated.
You’ll never think about cannibals the same way again.
Ed note: A version of this review was originally published on a now long defunct livejournal.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
There is a whole industry of books that explain why the world is the way it is. They are all by definition reductive and fail to grasp the actual complexities of the development of humanity. But, that being said, Guns Germs and Steel is among the best.
I can boil down Diamonds argument into a couple sentences: Why has the west been the dominant power for the last couple centuries? Because the West had access to (you guessed it) guns, germs and steel. Guns allowed us to take, by force, the land and resouces of others less well armed. Our resistance to certain germs (and our ability to inflict these germs on others) also allowed us to conquer vast areas of the plant. And steel allowed us to build an industry to support that exploitation and expansion.
Why did they have access to guns germs and steel before everyone else? Accidents of geography and evolution which forced us to live in the reasonably crowded, germ filled, swamp of Europe.
That’s pretty much it.
If all you care about is the thesis, I have just saved you hours of reading time. If you’re interested in how he got there, or want to feel like a fucking idiot because your range of knowledge is nowhere near Diamonds*, then read the book.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
*Diamond is, seriously, frighteningly smart and well versed in everything from genetic to anthropology. I’m awed by people with this much intellect.