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The Theft of History Paperback – January 22, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0521691055 ISBN-10: 0521691052

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521691052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521691055
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,652,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The author is famous; the analysis is cogent and stimulating."
--Robert L. Tignor, Princeton University, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"The book will be welcomed to graduate seminars or to advanced classes in the historiography of world history." -Jared Poley, World History Bulletin

"The problem of Eurocentrism in the social science is real and Goody's critique, bases upon impressive research, is both lucid and warranted." -Richard Reitan, Journal of World History

"In his broad and sweeping new book...the prolific Jack Goody once again endorses revisionist arguments and takes issue with Eurocentric historical narratives on two important registers." -Ajay Skaria, Journal of Modern History

Book Description

Jack Goody builds on his own work to extend his influential critique of what he sees as the pervasive eurocentric or occidentalist biases of western historical writing, and the consequent 'theft' by the West of the achievements of other cultures in the invention of (notably) democracy, capitalism, individualism, and love.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on July 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Sir Jack Goody, Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of the American National Academy of Sciences, Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, is one of the world's leading anthropologists, specialized particularly in literacy and alphabetism as an anthropological and political economic phenomenon. However, in "The Theft of History", he has written an excellent and courteous refutation of Eurocentric claims in anthropology and cultural history.

"The Theft of History" refers to the way in which the non-European cultures are part of the popular received opinion in the Western world only in the denigrating, false and imperialist manner in which the 19th century colonial historians and anthropologists portrayed them, and that only insofar as they appear in supposed world history at all. This is done in similar manner as in the books of James Blaut, André Gunder Frank, Eric Wolf and so forth, only Goody is less polemical than these and focuses in particular on the cultural aspects. The first part here treads the familiar ground (at least among people who have read this before, not among the general public or even intellectuals!) of refuting Eurocentric feudalism, the 'Asiatic mode of production', Asian backwardness etc.

The rest of the book goes into the cultural-anthropological aspects, which Goody is more unique in talking about in this context. These include but are not limited to the "theft of love" (the claim 'romantic love' was an invention of High Medieval European culture), the "theft of institutions" (universities, charities, city-states as unique to Europe), and the "theft of values" (democracy, individualism, etc. as unique to Europe).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Of Rules on July 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
Goody attacks the notion of a fundamental division between European and Asian historical trajectories, which he attributes to thinkers such as Braudel, Elias, Marx, Weber, Wallerstein, and Perry Anderson among others. By projecting categories of world history (antiquity, feudalism, capitalism, etc.) developed from European history onto Asian history, he claims, we have perpetuated an ethnocentric narrative that positions the West as the inventor of modern science, the university, the free city, capitalism, democracy, love, secularism, etc. In contrast, Goody argues that all cultures go through periods of efflorescence and retreat, and these alternations and inter-connections are a more productive point of departure for historical analysis. That is, rather than a hierarchy of causes for the development of regions, Goody argues for a different analytical entry point into a layered totality. Accordingly, he compares the exchanges between Europe and Asia arguing that regional dominance has fluctuated a number of times over the past millennia.
While I am sympathetic with Goody's approach, the result is something far less interesting than any of the "ethnocentric" historians he is arguing against have produced. Goody is right, I think, to emphasize the exchange of goods and information in the formation of global processes. For Goody's descriptions of the university, the free city, and love, this approach works just fine. The problem is that Goody, like many anthropologists, is ultimately arguing for a particular ontology, rather than adjudicating between possible explanations for the emergence of a particular phenomena.
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12 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael Nikolaou on March 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
I started reading the book with great anticipation, expecting a sober, scholarly analysis of a well known fact, namely that eurocentrism has overemphasized Europe's achievements while downplaying developments by others - at times with tragic consequences.

Early on (p. 14) I read "It is the earlier invention of writing in Eurasia that gave its major societies considerable advantages in the calculation of time,...rather than some inherent truth about the way the world is organized spatio-temporally". First, what exactly is that sentence supposed to mean? Second, counting, rather than writing, is enough for calculation of time, as the Inca quipus attest.

In the next paragraphs the author unleashes a polemic against Europeans for using a particular calendar system, different from what the Chinese, Africans, native Americans and others use. This is like lambasting people for measuring temperature in degrees Fahrenheit rather than degrees Celsius. And how exactly does the use of the European calendar constitute "theft of time"?

Then (p. 15) I read "...the yearly festivals of Christmas, Easter, Hallowe'en are now international...even though in the west there has developed a widespread secular attitude". True, but the int'l versions of these festivals are even more secular - one more chance to consume (cf. the bumper-sticker plea in the US: "Bring Jesus back to Christmas").

At this point I lost interest in the book. The author lacks the lucid, engaging style of authors such as Jared Diamond, to name one. I may return to the book to do justice to the impeccable credentials of its author.
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