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The Mountain People Paperback – July 2, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0671640989 ISBN-10: 0671640984 Edition: Touchstone
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Colin M. Turnbull was born in London, and now lives in Connecticut. He was educated at Westminster School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied philosophy and politics. After serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II, he held a research grant for two years in the Department of Indian Religion and Philosophy at Banaras Hindu University, in India, and then returned to Oxford, where he studied anthropology, specializing in the African field.

He has made five extended field trips to Africa, the last of which was spent mainly in the Republic of Zaïre. From these trips he drew the material for his first book, The Forest People, an account of the three years he spent with the Pygmies of Zaïre.

Mr. Turnbull was a Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and a Corresponding Member of Le Musée Royal d'Afrique Centrale.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Touchstone edition (July 2, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671640984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671640989
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #707,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Justin M. Teerlinck on September 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
This anthropological classic is important on a number of levels. Leading by example, Turnbull provides a lesson for anthropology students about the bravery required to embraces one's biases, instead of just pretending they do not exist. On a deeper level, he chronicles the disintegration of a culture through starvation to reveal the human nature that underlies all cultures. He describes, through the story of one people, what all people are capable of in dire circumstances.

Many people would prefer to read ethnographic accounts where the anthropologist sugar coats their real opinions. Indeed, this is what the scientific community expects. In many cases, the ethnographic writer poisons their own writing that comes out of bad experiences by superimposing a fase, insincere gloss of respect and understanding on top of a culture that they clearly feel superior to.

Turnbull does not feel superior to the Ik, but he is bluntly honest with himself and his readers about his pessimistic outlook and his view that the remainder of the Ik culture should be disbanded. Readers have complained about Turnbull's "bias" when in fact they simply disagree with the conclusions he reached. Many readers' complaints betray vast ignorance about ethnographic fieldwork, anthropological research methods and accuse the author of hypocricy while practicing it themselves.

Indeed, some people imply that Turbull led a cushy life among the Ik because he eat (in private, hiding in his Land Rover) while the Ik starved for two years. What an evil, greedy man, say the critics. Why didn't he do something? Well, he DID do something. He brought their plight to the attention of the world. What was he supposed to do, starve to death along with them?
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dawn Stoker on March 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Colin Turnbull's, Mountain People, is a study and commentary on the dark side of human nature. Easily readable, and at times humorous, this account of Turnbull's fieldwork with the Ik will not produce warm fuzzies, or reestablish one's faith in the innate goodness of mankind. Anyone with an interest in anthropology, psychology, or sociology will appreciate the observations made by Turnbull. He takes a controversial stand in the book, advocating the separation and relocation of the Ik people. His reasons for making such a shocking suggestion are fully developed in the text. It is also of interest to note that Turnbull's fieldwork was done in the 60's, and much water has passed under the bridge since then... for the Ik, and the world in general.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A conservation biologist on September 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In exposing the Ik situation Colin Turnbull documented the impacts of land use decisions on people who are left out of the decision making. To those of us who support conservation efforts it is an ethical touchstone.

I read this book and wept. It provides, through an on site, in depth study of the Ik, one of the clearest definitions of being human that I have ever read. It is horrible, beautiful and very frightening. It describes how fragile humanity is among human beings. It made me face that we are collectively responsible for maintaining the social contexts for being good people.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Was course material that I dreaded initially, but after reading it, I could not stop thinking about the Ik, the changes overcoming their existence and their adaptation to their circumstances. Must tip my hat to Turnbull (now deceased) for a well written, can't put down book on a subject I had zero interest in prior to devouring it. 5 stars well deserved.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Mountain People is the work of an anthropologist who spent two years studying the Ik, a small tribe in Uganda. This is an outstanding book that is easy to read and understand. A must read for any anthropology major. Knowledge of African geography is not essential to enjoying this book, but might be helpful if you are one who thrives on such details. In summary, I found his comparisons between the Ik and our own society to be very provocative and insightful. Perhaps we are not so compassionate as we say we are...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Josef K on December 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Colin Turnbull's "Mountain People" is a chilling narrative of cultural disintegration, the account of a once proud tribe of hunter-gatherers forced off their hunting grounds by misguided government policies. Turnbull only came into contact with the Ik long after the catastrophe had happened, and he only saw them at their worse. It is possible that what he saw affected his sanity. His recommendations at the end of the book are draconian at best, fascist at worse. There are parallels with Swift's "Modest Proposal" and Kurtz in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" with his cry of "Exterminate all the brutes." Like Hunter K. Thompson in his Hells Angels book Turnbull got too close to his subject for his own good and suffered the consequence. Nonetheless, this is a powerful and courageous book and I can't agree with those who castigate the author as hypocritical or racist. For another side of Colin Turnbull I would recommend "The Forest People," a beautiful and deeply moving account of the Pygmies of the Congo Rain Forest written years before Turnbull's encounter with the Ik. Turnbull clearly loves the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and knows what a travesty any attempt to "civilize" these people is. Certainly the history of the Native Americans in our own country is full of examples of the same phenomenon.
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