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Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment 4th Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559635554
ISBN-10: 155963555X
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John Gowdy is Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 4th edition (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155963555X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559635554
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful collection of articles on economic anthropology. The book begins with the seminal article by Marshall Sahlins' on the "original affluent society" which debunked the myth that pre-agricultural life was "short, nasty and brutish". Monographs by Richard Lee and Lorne Marshall that originally appeared in 'Man the Hunter' are included.
The main thrust of the book is that primitive cultures had found a way of living on this planet that was sustainable, but in the neolithic era our farming ancestors abandoned this way of living for a much more ardous life-style that is ecologically unsustainable. What was the basis for this change? This book explores some of the canonical assumptions in our economic thought and how it differs fundamentally from that of primitive cultures. This is a great starting point for anyone interested in paradigms for sustainable development. References and further reading lists are particularly useful.
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Format: Paperback
this book completely destroys from front to back and should be a starting point for anyone interested in egalitarian / immediate return hunter-gatherers and band life. the book does a fabulous job of starting out with an excerpt from Marshall Sahlins' "the original affluent society", the key to upturning the anthropology world on its head. the book goes over mechanisms of hunter-gatherer life that keeps them autonomous, cooperative bands and displays how relationships within them are fluid, neglecting them of leaders. James Woodburn's works from the Hadza on this are crucial on the comparison between immediate return and delayed return societies. Women's status is covered by the late Eleanor Leacock and the book is concluded with an essay by Paul Shepard entitled "A post-historic primitivism" that completely shreds historical consciousness.

John Gowdy did an amazing job at putting all these essays together in such a coherent way throughout covering so much ground. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers is a good companion to this.
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Format: Paperback
Modern civilization has a tendency to congratulate itself as it exhales a heavy and self-aggrandizing sigh of relief that we are so blessed to live in this wonderful day in age, rejoicing, "No more are the brutish days of 'survival of the fittest' and the never-ending toils of struggling to find food, battling disease, and fending off invaders and predators!" But as clearly demonstrated in this book, the pre-agricultural lives of our ancestors were comprised mostly of leisure time, because food was generally plentiful, requiring only a few hours of "work" per day. People were generally healthy and happy, largely in part because their only "work" was enjoyable communal activities that strengthened social bonds and strengthened one's connection to nature. And while there certainly were occasional famines and other hardships, this book paints a pretty clear picture that, for all our "progress" over the last few millennia, in many (or most?) regards we are worse off now than when we started.

Some of modern civilization's most lamentable qualities are often casually written off as human nature, as we collectively shrug our shoulders and concede that our species is "naturally" and unavoidably selfish, materialistic, hierarchical, male-dominated, warlike, etc., touting the modern pervasiveness of these qualities as evidence of their inevitability. But modern civilization comprises only a tiny sliver on the timeline of human existence, and by closely examining the first 99% of human history (as this book does), we see that in fact the most consistent human qualities were peacefulness, sharing, sexual equality, social equality, equal distribution of "wealth" (in terms of food), and so forth.
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This was for me a groundbreaking book. Hunter-Gatherers are egalitarian and both sexes are equal, they only work a few hours each day, and they have more than enough food to eat. The don't own many things and don't want to own many things, they share and give away - their economy is nothing like ours. The "economic man" who only wants more and more is an arbitrary concept. We don't want more, we want a group to belong too and share everything with them. We are not created to live in this modern world. And we are not created to live by ourselves or just our families. In our natural way of living as Homo sapiens our group is our life - it's more important than anything else. And if you don't like this particular group you can move around as you wish. People respect you and the elderly and children don't need to work - there is more than enough food for the ones who can't or don't want to work. The most important thing is to share everything and keep the tight-knit group culture. Some people will die or suffer, but mostly things are calm.

This book is great! After reading the resume at the beginning your mind will be mindblown. After that it goes into the things explained at the resume - which is a plus for us geeky folks. The anthropological stories are fantastic and deserve to be read by everyone. Must read.
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