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Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes--The Yanomamo and the Anthropologistsby Napoleon A. Chagnon
Synopses & Reviews
andlt;Bandgt;ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC MEMOIRS OF OUR TIME andlt;/Bandgt;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;When Napoleon Chagnon arrived in Venezuelaand#8217;s Amazon region in 1964 to study the Yanomamand#246; Indians, one of the last large tribal groups still living in isolation, he expected to find Rousseauand#8217;s and#8220;noble savages,and#8221; so-called primitive people living contentedly in a pristine state of nature. Instead Chagnon discovered a remarkably violent society. Men who killed others had the most wives and offspring, their violence possibly giving them an evolutionary advantage. The prime reasons for violence, Chagnon found, were to avenge deaths and, if possible, abduct women. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;When Chagnon began publishing his observations, some cultural anthropologists who could not accept an evolutionary basis for human behavior refused to believe them. Chagnon became perhaps the most famous American anthropologist since Margaret Meadand#8212;and the most controversial. He was attacked in a scathing popular book, whose central allegation that he helped start a measles epidemic among the Yanomamand#246; was quickly disproven, and the American Anthropological Association condemned him, only to rescind its condemnation after a vote by the membership. Throughout his career Chagnon insisted on an evidence-based scientific approach to anthropology, even as his professional association dithered over whether it really is a scientific organization. In andlt;Iandgt;Noble Savagesandlt;/Iandgt;, Chagnon describes his seminal fieldworkand#8212;during which he lived among the Yanomamand#246;, was threatened by tyrannical headmen, and experienced an uncomfortably close encounter with a jaguarand#8212;taking readers inside Yanomamand#246; villages to glimpse the kind of life our distant ancestors may have lived thousands of years ago. And he forcefully indicts his discipline of cultural anthropology, accusing it of having traded its scientific mission for political activism. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;This book, like Chagnonand#8217;s research, raises fundamental questions about human nature itself.
"Few social scientists end up as famous or contentious as American anthropologist Chagnon, whose unusually extensive field work among a highly remote Amazonian people, the YanomamÃ¶, led to unorthodox conclusions about primitive societies in general and the YanomamÃ¶'s warlike nature in particular. In 2000, however, a veritable academic firestorm arose after Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon charged Chagnon, among others, with harming, deliberately or inadvertently, his research subjects, not least by starting a measles epidemic — an accusation that provoked his official condemnation (later reversed) by the American Anthropological Association. This memoir, Chagnon's first book for a general audience, recounts with confident prose and self-effacing humor his intense immersion, from 1964 onward, within this fascinating people and their jungle environment. It also critiques the Amazon's politically powerful, 'sinister' Salesian Catholic missionaries, as well as the 'ayatollahs of anthropology' for their Marxist-derived agenda and Rousseauian 'noble savage' ideals, which run counter to his own Hobbesian beliefs. In this invaluable book, Chagnon (YanomamÃ¶: The Last Days of Eden) delivers a gripping adventure travelogue. His take on the corrupting relationship between politics and science is as likely to restoke the flames of debate as settle outstanding accounts. Agent: John Taylor Williams, Kneerim & Williams Agency. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The most controversial and famous anthropologist of our time describes his seminal lifelong research among the YanomamÖ Indians of the Amazon basin and how his startling observations provoked admiration among many fellow anthropologists and outrage among others.
Napoleon Chagnon began his research on the YanomamÖ in 1964, ultimately spending the equivalent of five years among them, one of the last isolated large tribal groups still living in conditions found at the beginning of the agricultural revolution. His groundbreaking bestselling book YanomamÖ made Chagnon a household name among students of anthropology.
Rather than finding the YanomamÖ to be Rousseau’s “noble savages,” he discovered them to be a violent society. Men who killed others had the most wives and offspring, their violence giving them an advantage in evolutionary terms. The prime reasons for violence, Chagnon found, were to avenge deaths and, if possible, abduct women.
Politically correct cultural anthropologists in the United States refused to accept Chagnon’s empirical observations, and for his scientific integrity he was attacked by those who could not acknowledge an evolutionary basis for human behavior. Chagnon was the subject of a scathing popular book, and the American Anthropological Association condemned him, but later reversed its condemnation after undertaking a more careful review.
In Noble Savages, Chagnon for the first time tells about life among the YanomamÖ for a popular audience and indicts the discipline of cultural anthropology, accusing it of having lost its scientific identity, instead becoming a band of political activists. Noble Savages is one of the most significant works of anthropology ever published, indeed one of the most significant scientific memoirs ever written.
About the Author
Napoleon A. Chagnon is distinguished research professor at the University of Missouri and adjunct research scientist at the University of Michigan, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He formerly taught at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Penn State, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan. He is the author of five previous academic books and lives in Columbia, Missouri.
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