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Noble Savages.

My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes--the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists

By Napoleon A. Chagnon

Labeled the "most controversial anthropologist" in America by the New York Times Magazine, Napoleon Chagnon, currently a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, has antagonized associates with his deductions and has butted heads with the American Anthropological Association over his methods. His 1968 book Yanomamo: The Fierce People argued that "primitive" people, rather than living peacefully, engaged in violent behavior.

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THE TOPIC: In 1964, Chagnon, a graduate student in anthropology, traveled to the Venezuelan jungle to study and live among the Yanomam?, an aggressive Stone Age tribe largely untouched by the modern world. Amid rising globalization and the didactic efforts of missionaries, he reasoned that "this was the last chance for an anthropologist to observe this fascinating social and political transition." Chagnon made numerous return trips and published best-selling books over the next three decades, but his findings, particularly his theories that early humans were warlike and brawled over women rather than natural resources, contradicted prevailing assumptions and ignited a firestorm in scientific circles. In this memoir, Chagnon details his years among the Yanomamo as well as the academic battles over--and recent vindication of--his life's work.

Simon & Schuster. 544 pages. $32.50. ISBN: 9780684855103

Daily Beast ****

"[This memoir] offers a highly readable mixture of adventure, science, and scandal. ... While Chagnon doesn't give a terribly charitable account of his critics' arguments in these conflicts, it's clear that his work helped deflate a myth lingering in the minds of many." NICK ROMEO

New York Times ****

"It is a beautifully written adventure story of how Dr. Chagnon learned to survive in an entirely alien culture and environment, among villages locked in perpetual warfare and jaguars that would stalk his tracks through the jungle. ... Noble Savages is a remarkable testament to an engineer's 35-year effort to unravel the complex working of an untouched human society." NICHOLAS WADE

Seattle Times ****

"Chagnon's description of the life of the Yanomamo is consistent with others I've read and makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in native peoples, history and where we all came from. His descriptions of the hardship of fieldwork--the anaconda that almost took his head off, the termites he finds in his shoes in the morning and the pleasures of smoked armadillo--are equally so. But it is the back and forth between Chagnon and his peers that makes the most intense reading." CURT SCHLEIER

Wall Street Journal ****

"It is one of the most interesting anthropology books I have ever read. But I suspect it will do nothing to quell the controversies. ... Parts of Noble Savages are among the few white-knuckle reads in contemporary anthropological literature." CHARLES C. MANN

Washington Post ****

"Chagnon's reminiscences of his time among the Yanomamo nonetheless offer a fascinating portrayal of the discomfort and danger that anthropologists working in remote areas face. ... His deep affection for the knowledge the Yanomamo afforded him is apparent throughout the book, but, as subjects, the Yanomamo themselves never fully come alive in this account." RACHEL NEWCOMB

NY Times Book Review *

"It is less an expose of truth than an act of revenge. If your belief in your culture's superiority is founded on thinking of other societies as prehistoric time capsules, then you will enjoy this book. If not, say a requiem for the trees and make an offering to the pulp mill." ELIZABETH POVINELLI

CRITICAL SUMMARY

An "occasionally unwieldy yet engaging memoir" (Washington Post), Noble Savages entertains readers with visceral depictions of a way of life vastly different from our own. Chagnon fills out his fascinating cultural survey with humorous and harrowing stories of his attempts to survive the unforgiving jungle, but his account of the wrath his fieldwork and findings provoked among colleagues makes for particularly gripping reading. The New York Times was the only critic that completely dismissed the book, calling into question Chagnon's methods and conclusions as well as a seemingly pompous attitude toward his research subjects. But most reviewers agreed that readers will find few more knowledgeable guides through this vanished world than Chagnon.
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Title Annotation:Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists
Author:Chagnon, Napoleon A.
Publication:Bookmarks
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2013
Words:680
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