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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art [Kindle Edition]

Carl Hoffman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (280 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he'd been killed and ceremonially eaten by the local Asmat—a native tribe of warriors whose complex culture was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The Dutch government and the Rockefeller family denied the story, and Michael's death was officially ruled a drowning. Yet doubts lingered. Sensational rumors and stories circulated, fueling speculation and intrigue for decades. The real story has long waited to be told—until now.

Retracing Rockefeller's steps, award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman traveled to the jungles of New Guinea, immersing himself in a world of headhunters and cannibals, secret spirits and customs, and getting to know generations of Asmat. Through exhaustive archival research, he uncovered never-before-seen original documents and located witnesses willing to speak publically after fifty years.

In Savage Harvest he finally solves this decades-old mystery and illuminates a culture transformed by years of colonial rule, whose people continue to be shaped by ancient customs and lore. Combining history, art, colonialism, adventure, and ethnography, Savage Harvest is a mesmerizing whodunit, and a fascinating portrait of the clash between two civilizations that resulted in the death of one of America's richest and most powerful scions.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: “I think I can make it.” In 1961, while on an expedition to collect pieces for his father’s Museum of Primitive Art, Michael Rockefeller and his traveling companion were plunged into the warm waters off New Guinea. The billionaire scion tied two empty gas cans to his body for floatation and swam for shore, and by most accounts, he made it. But what happened there, when he encountered members of the Asmat tribe--a culture marked by ritual violence and cannibalism--has been long debated. Did he disappear into the tropical jungles, or was he rendered and eaten by the tribesmen, as many speculated and the Rockefeller family long denied? Award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman has stepped into Rockefeller’s boot prints and Asmat society, interviewing generations of warriors in an exhaustive and engrossing attempt to solve the mystery. The result, Savage Harvest, succeeds not only as a captivating and sensational puzzle, but also as a (seemingly unlikely) modern adventure and a fascinating glimpse of an anachronistic people pulled into the 20th century by the tensions of global politics. So, did he make it? The title might offer a clue. --Jon Foro


Simon Winchester
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Simon Winchester Reviews Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

Carl Hoffman, who with his 2010 book The Lunatic Express demonstrated himself to be a traveler of the greatest courage and determination, as well as a writer of skill, has now made a significant contribution to history. Savage Harvest, a narrative that is as exciting as it is instructive, appears finally to have winnowed the truth from the mare’s nest of legend and wishful thinking surrounding the disappearance in November 1961, of Michael Rockefeller, in a remote region of southwestern New Guinea.The 23-year old, along with a Dutch anthropologist colleague and two young guides, were sailing in a dugout catamaran some three miles from the coast of Asmat. The craft overturned; the two locals swam for help, but as the wreck drifted farther from land an impatient Rockefeller decided to try and make it alone. With two fuel cans to help his buoyancy on what he reckoned would be a twenty-hour swim, he slid into the warm shallows of the Arafura Sea - never to be seen by friends or family again.Did he drown? Was he eaten by a shark? Did he vanish into the jungle, Kurtz-like? Or was he the victim of cannibalism at the hands of coastal villagers? Hoffman has shown that with assiduous tradecraft, hard work and near-obsessive tenacity, it is possible to know, to solve the supposedly insoluble. He has journeyed, twice now, deep into the dark interiors of Asmat, and has conducted interviews and learned the language and listened to sensible men and women – in New Guinea, in the Netherlands, in the anthropology departments of knowledgeable universities. And he has used a severe intelligence to determine just what happened on that warm dawn Monday, November 20, 1961.The Rockefellers – not least Michael’s twin sister Mary, who produced her own book two years ago – may not want to believe this tale; and the family did nothing to help Hoffman in his admirable quest. But the truth, as this book chronicles in patient, meticulous detail, has a way of eking itself out. Savage Harvest is a remarkable testament to the revealed truth, and of its revealing - even if that truth is wholly bizarre and, to most, quite literally unpalatable.

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author most recently of The Men Who United the States as well as Atlantic, The Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. In 2006 Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.


From Booklist

*Starred Review* Award-winning travel writer Hoffman’s (The Lunatic Express, 2010) penchant for extremes fueled his demanding quest for the truth about Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in New Guinea in 1961. Freshly graduated from Harvard and eager to emulate his art collector father, Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, Michael became enthralled with the Asmat’s extraordinary wood carvings and was dashing from village to village, buying as many pieces as he could find, when his boat capsized in rough seas. Death by drowning was the official finding, but rumors of a far more horrific fate persisted. After arduous sojourns among the enigmatic Asmat, Hoffman came to understand how their ancient cosmology was enacted through “reciprocal violence,” headhunting, and cannibalism. He also realized just how risky Rockefeller’s buying spree was, given the bloody conflicts raging between the Asmat and the Dutch colonial authorities, and how little the novice collector knew about the spiritual significance of the art he was acquiring, including monumental works on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By dint of grueling fieldwork, startling archival discoveries, revelatory visits with a Dutch missionary relieved to break his 50-year silence, profound insights, and muscular writing, Hoffman tells the unforgettable story of a soothing and politically expedient cover-up and a brutal and tragic collision of cultures. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 2367 KB
  • Print Length: 339 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (March 18, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DB30K30
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,827 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An audacious and brilliant book March 20, 2014
Format:Hardcover
"Savage Harvest" is about much more than the 1961 disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in Papau, New Guinea. This brilliant book also contains elements of exploration, adventure, anthropology, politics, and personal introspection. My only complaint is that the book is too short. Any of these themes could justify far more words than are presented.

Much like Carl Hoffman's previous book, "The Lunatic Express," everything about "Savage Harvest" is audacious: the physical and financial risks of his two trips, the belief that after so long there was still something new to uncover, the challenge of being accepted by the indigenous Asmat people with whom Hoffman lives, and even the notion that a marketable book could be created from a story in which headhunting and cannibalism are central concepts. Even the structure of the book, in which first-person contemporary reporting is combined with detailed, if plausible and well-documented, recreations of historical events indicates a writer who doesn't like to play it safe.

Now, this is not a breezy read. Any book that begins with a graphic account of one man being killed and ritually eaten by other men requires a certain commitment from the reader. This is a book that I read in small sections, thus allowing me to fully process the many implications of the text. "Savage Harvest" demands, and rewards, a lot of thought. The most powerful message presented by "Savage Harvest" is that the Asmat live in a world profoundly different from the one occupied by those who are likely to read this book. Asmat values, Asmat social expectations, and even the relationship between the Asmat and "reality" can be fundamentally alien to a modern, western mind.
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96 of 111 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Finally a "campy" but Definitive Answer ... March 23, 2014
Format:Hardcover
As I was entering my sophomore year of college, Michael Rockefeller, the son of the then Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, was reported missing when the catamaran he and a friend were sailing on collapsed. This had happened near a remote island off the southwest coast of New Guinea, deep in the Pacific Ocean. What was reported in the newspapers at the time is that his friend chose to wait on floating debris and was rescued, but Michael chose to try to swim the five miles to the island in question, in a rather desperate personal search for primitive artifacts for his museum featuring items form the Asmat people. The Asmat tribe was a small group of pre-stone Age people, having little or no contact with the outside world.

At first it seemed it would just be a matter of days before Michael would be found and reported alive -- after all he was a Rockefeller. But as the time stretched out, the chances that he would be discovered at all, dimmed. The conventional wisdom had it that undoubtedly he had drown. And then the reports petered out altogether ...

Over the years, intermittent reports trickled-in but became more and more speculative and more and more macabre, until there were only a rash of unconfirmed reports of a death due to cannibalism? Those reports were received with equal measures of tantalizing shock and incredulity; and as often as not, were dismissed.

Now with this book, it seems that after nearly 50 years, we do finally get the full story of what happened to him. And if this story can be trusted, and I believe many parts of it can, it is indeed a story worthy of the long wait.

Apparently, Michael did not drown as many had speculated, but did indeed manage to swim to the Dutch island in question safely.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller disappeared on his second trip hunting for primitive art in Papua New Guinea. Despite intense searches, officially, the cause of his disappearance and presumed death has remained unknown, a mystery, since. The speculations ranged from his going native, drowning at sea, and being killed and eaten by members of the Asmat cannibal headhunters in the region. Recently, author Carl Hoffman set out to find better answers, and this the story of his experiences.

Hoffman chooses to dispense with anything like an introduction. He offers no calm, rational overview of his report on what happened to Michael Rockefeller. Instead, he opens this masterful account with a body slam followed by knockout blow to the jaw: a detailed account, albeit speculative, of how the murder and following rituals of consuming Michael, body and spirit, might have taken place. When you wake up and shake off this stunning blow (never totally), he takes you on an extensive journey into the hearts and spirits of humans who are radically different from those of us in the "civilized" Western European world. Alien and Other, they truly are.

Hoffman speculates that he and Michael Rockefeller were both lured by the opportunity to know first hand these differences, to know them from the inside. The outcome for Hoffman - the experiences that led to this book - is radically different than for Rockefeller's. His was a killing done by those whose world included spirits of their dead who create havoc if not avenged. Hoffman's well-supported speculation is that the Rockefeller scion most likely was a victim of a ritualized murder done to balance the earlier killings of indigenous cannibal headhunters by (white) Dutch soldiers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Reviiews mention the disappearance of the son of Nelson Rockefeller...
Reviiews mention the disappearance of the son of Nelson Rockefeller but does not ultimately detrermine his fate. Read more
Published 6 days ago by D. Murakami
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Did not work for my 5 month old shih tzu.
Published 8 days ago by Kathy Nichols
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
Great but tragic story and excellent investigative journalism.
Published 16 days ago by iswood
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Not only the story and the quest but ...
Excellent. Not only the story and the quest but also the insights and the personal connection. Recommended for a good view of the Other and the the encounter of the West and those... Read more
Published 16 days ago by M. V. Oswaldo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Didn't know this about Michael Rockefeller and what a tragedy for his parents. Well written and very informative.
Published 19 days ago by A. Brock
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Investigative Reporting Brings Convincing Closure to this...
Carl Hoffman does a commendable job of first party research in an attempt to uncover the truth around the disappearance and death of Michael Rockefeller in 1961 off New Guinea. Read more
Published 20 days ago by William Capodanno
5.0 out of 5 stars When Worlds Collide
While its not a nail biter the book explores and defines well the primative man connection to a spirtual world which to them is as real to them as our natural world arond us. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Michael Dribnock
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Well written and really interesting.
Published 24 days ago by Fay
5.0 out of 5 stars Given as a gift
Gave as a gift so I haven't read it--but the recipient had recently read a review and was excited to receive the book.
Published 25 days ago by Elaine L. Locke
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of Michael Rockefeller's possible fate
This is a remarkable and well-researched account of one possibility as to Michael Rockefeller's fate. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and was a New York Times summer reading pick. He has won four Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation and one North American Travel Journalism Award. A veteran journalist and former contributing editor for Wired, he has traveled to more than 70 countries on assignment for Outside, Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, the Magazine, Wired, Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics and many other publications. He is a native of Washington, D. C. and the father of three children.

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