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Stone Age Economics Paperback – December 31, 1974

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Aldine Transaction (December 31, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0202010996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0202010991
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Any anthropologist who has postponed reading this book should do so at once… This book is outstanding and enjoyable…. Though detailed and technical in places, it is always clear, succinct, and it flowers with memorable sentences.”

—Paul Stirling, Man

Stone Age Economics is the most important book in the field of economic anthropology produced by an American cultural anthropologist since M. J. Herskovits published The Economic Life of Primitive Peoples in 1940.”

—Scott Cook, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“Sahlins’ forays into economic anthropology are full of interest.”

—Cyril S. Belshaw, American Anthropologist

Stone Age Economics, while not a survey of the economic anthropology, is as of now the most sophisticated, extensive presentation, and argument in and about, the field.”

—Walter C. Neale, Science

"This book is subversive to so many of the fundamental assumptions of Western technological society that it is a wonder it was permitted to be published. Calling on extensive research among the planet's remaining stone-age societies—in Africa, Australia and South-East Asia as well as anecdotal reports from early explorers, Professor Sahlins directly challenges the idea that Western civilization has provided greater 'leisure' or 'affluence,' or even greater reliability, than 'primitive' hunter-gatherers."

Whole Earth Review

"His book is rich in factual evidence and in ideas, so rich that a brief review cannot do it justice; only another book could do that."

—E. Evans-Pritchard, Times Literary Supplement

"Sahlin's concept of the 'domestic mode of production' starts to give economic anthropology its necessary comparative basis."

—Mary Douglas

About the Author

Marshall Sahlins is one of the most prominent American anthropologists of our time. He holds the title of Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is How Natives Think: About Captain Cook, for Example.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Willem Noe on May 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a well-known and rather old (1972) classic work on the economics of exchange as a cultural phenomenon. I remember this book was quoted several times during my studies of economics (and that was in the early 80s). I always kept the idea that as an economist I actually should read it myself, and so now i finally did.
The book is written from an anthropological angle and claims that stone age economies were the original affluent society. The claim is startling as it is original, as it runs counterintuitive; weren't people in early primitive (as defined by level of societal complexity) communities not always on the border of starvation and their needs much unfulfilled? Here the author points out that in the central concept of economics, scarcity, or the tension between wants and means, can be reduced either from the supply side (which is what modern production and exchange economies do) or on the demand side, the Zen way to happiness so to speak, by not having much of any demand. Within their own context such hunter-gatherer societies were therefore quite well-off and not on the brink of disaster. To have high wealth in the form of goods was simply not practical in this way of life as you had to carry all of it around hence slowing you down. Similarly, there was often an under-use of resources rather than a constant bumping against existence limits. Of course, there were very real Malthusian limits also as a result of the societal organization. Nevertheless, the point on scarcity is well made and can be seen as a (mild) critique of consumer society. It also bring the social and cultural context in which economics plays to the fore. At the same time, the author discusses the role of gift exchange in return for other goods as a social phenomenon next to the purely economic terms of exchange.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 10, 1996
Format: Hardcover
This superb work discusses the types of economic organization which currently exist and which have existed throughout human history (and into pre-history). It then shows the effect of such economic organizations on social structure.

This book should be required reading for all students of economics, as it has major implications for our own societies today.

Stone Age Economics is also a very interesting and readable text, not at all dry or boring. It is filled with information about various cultures and interesting details such as the fact that the hunter-gatherer Bushmen in the Kalihari desert spend only about 1 1/2 hours per day on staying alive, and spend the rest of the time singing, drinking and telling stories.

This is a truly important work.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By ingonyama VINE VOICE on December 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book for reasons mentioned by other reviewers. But...the data Sahlins uses to make his argument about the "Original Affluent Society" have been called into question on multiple grounds, notably 1) inadequate time-depth, 2) a restrictive definition of "work," and 3) contrary evidence suggesting that many foragers suffer from malnutrition. See David Kaplan, "The Darker Side of the Original Affluent Society," in the Journal of Anthropological Research (2001).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lia on February 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very refreshing book with a (for me at least) new view on pastoralist life. This is certainly not only a book for those interested in history, but also provides valuable lessons and warnings for the present governance of fragile ecosystems in which pastoralists live. Away from all to common prejudices about failure of people to get the maximum out of their environment, the book provides a good insights into how and why apparant "laziness" of people actually contributes to their long term survival by maintaining ecological balances. Hence: commendable for everyone thinking about intstitutions needed to preserve open access commons!
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