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The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind Hardcover – April 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An examination of the continuing influence of tribalism on how humans think and behave is by times both fascinating and frustrating. Fox (The Red Lamp of Incest), professor of social theory at Rutgers University, applies our savage instincts to explain a wide variety of phenomena, including Middle Eastern politics, religious sectarianism, the 10 Commandments, poetry, and incest taboos. However, it is in the thesis itself that the trouble lies. The author argues that our notions of "human" and "rights" are historically constituted and relatively recent, yet goes on to essentialize his own view of human nature (tribal and antagonistic to strangers). More worryingly, he implicitly places all of humanity on a simplistic evolutionary scale that sees Western democratic societies at the top. The attempt to view so many dimensions of culture and politics through the lenses of an atavistic tribalism oversimplifies, doing little justice to the richness and variety of both the contemporary world and the author's own eclectic interests. (Apr.)
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Review

Written with Fox's usual flair and vigor, and with a poet's feel for language, The Tribal Imagination is a landmark in evolutionary social science, an original contribution to literary history and analysis. (Roger Sandall, author of The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays)

The Tribal Imagination manages to be erudite and logical yet engaging and entertaining at the same time. The intellectual pace of the book is the cognitive equivalent of being smacked by waves on the beach. (Stephen V. Faraone, author of Straight Talk About Your Child's Mental Health)

The Tribal Imagination is an elegant demonstration that human nature is omnipresent in the symbolic realm and that knowing about this is the best way to make sense not only of humankind's unity but of its diversity as well. (Bernard Chapais, author of Primeval Kinship: How Pair Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society)

In The Tribal Imagination, Robin Fox brings to bear stunning insights from his wide knowledge of human societies and the philosophers, poets, and thinkers who have tried to understand them. He casts brilliant light not just on the human historical experience, but on contemporary issues from Iraq to human rights as well. (Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution)

One of our most prolific and brilliant anthropologists has done it again. Marriage rules of simple societies, the rise of civilization, modern international politics, and literary examples ranging from the Bible and Greek mythology to Shakespeare and children's rhymes are all grist for Robin Fox's mill, which grinds out a fine understanding of how human groups function, given the Darwinian imperatives operating in history, the dynamics of family relationships, and the possibilities and limitations of the human brain. (Melvin Konner, author of The Evolution of Childhood)

A lively, digressive work of startling range. (Evan R. Goldstein Chronicle of Higher Education 2011-02-06)

The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind is an exciting synthesis of earlier work like the anthropological classic Kinship and Marriage (1967) and [Fox's] latest wide-ranging thoughts. In a way reminiscent of the breadth of Charles Hill's recent masterpiece Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, Fox ranges from a discussion of the Ten Commandments to an analysis of the great warrior epics and Sophocles' King Oedipus, from incest taboos and the myth of Isis and Osiris to the ambiguous nature of human rights, from the plot of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights to Karl Popper's thoughts on the desirability of 'open' as against 'closed' societies. But his most topical and provocative comments are found in a chapter entitled 'The Kindness of Strangers: Tribalism and the Trials of Democracy.' (Roger Sandall American Interest 2011-07-01)

Here is a veteran writer and thinker sounding off on a huge variety of subjects, ranging from why monarchy may not be such a bad form of government after all to why James Cameron's Avatar exemplifies an important anthropological thesis… The charm of this book…lies in this very eclectic approach. (Bradley Winterton Taipei Times 2011-06-19)

In this stocktaking of the human condition past, present, and future, Fox draws on publications made throughout his illustrious anthropological career. Readers are treated not only to Fox's wide-ranging ideas on the topic, but also to insights into Fox the scholar, especially a chapter devoted to his enthrallment with the Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Though Fox makes an evolutionary argument, his goal is not to layout an evolutionary sequence leading to ourselves, but to make connections between what we see in ourselves as humans today and how this relates to our evolutionary past. (D. Read Choice 2011-12-01)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674059018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674059016
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,777,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was drawn to anthropology through early reading about history and civilization, and by religious doubts as a teenager. (I had been a pious Church of England boy.) My mother gave me H. G. Well's "Outine of History" when I was a teenager and I read T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" with its references to ritual and Sir James Frazer. I did a sociology degree at the LSE specializing in social philosophy and social anthropology, then went for two years to Harvard. While there I went out to New Mexico and fell in love with the Pueblo Indians. Back in the UK I did fieldwork on Gaelic-speaking Tory Island in NW Donegal. I wrote "Kinship and Marriage" which is perhaps the world's most widely used book on that topic. After meeting Lionel Tiger (at the London Zoo) I became interested in Darwinism and the evolution of behavior. Together we moved to Rutgers University in New Jersey and have been there ever since. We wrote "The Imperial Animal" which brought mild notoriety and helped change the social sciences in an evolutionary direction. I have studied the brain at Stanford and Macaque monkeys in Bermuda, written poetry and essays, and continue to enjoy teaching and research and writing (including a book about Shakespeare.). In 2013 I was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Anthropology is for me full of great insights, but also a lot of fun. See my website at www.robin-fox.com for more details - and more fun stuff.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Kiefer on November 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This seems to be a collection of essays which have been published before here and there, re-edited, with some added transitions. As a fellow anthropologist there is not much of a major sort that I disagree with, aside form the occasional crabby detail. Overall, the book is quite good reading, but is certainly not the magnum opus of Professor Fox.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marshall on June 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Tribal Imagination by Robin Fox:

For America in the 21st century the defining issue has been the relationship between societies in which sympathy and trust are confined to family, kin and a very exclusive tribe and societies in which one is expected to offer trust and accept trust from strangers. That has also been the defining issue for all those other countries and all those other centuries touched by history.

The two mental sets are not symmetrical. One was hammered out over two or three million years of hominid evolution. The other was cobbled together by a relatively small group of men and women over two or three hundred years and has yet to prove its durability politically, environmentally, economically, psychologically or demographically; if one of those cards is removed the house falls.

The opportunity for extended trust was always there, but the exclusive mode was dominant for evolutionary time. Evolution’s verdict seems to be: mate out but not too far out; don’t marry a childhood playmate; if you are male bond with males and nurture women, if female subvert male bonds and nurture children; only trust or help family; there are rules. From such beginnings the inclusive societies somehow evolved; the study of such evolution also involved. Neither process has been without its snags.

Across such great chasms societies gaze with mutual incomprehension and precious little self understanding, unwilling to compromise and all too willing to use deadly force. Regrettable things happen.

Robin Fox explains that beneath the smooth and undeniably wealth producing surface of our inclusive societies throb the ancient drumbeats of the default mode, of the exclusive social model.
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Astonishing in its breadth, intelligence and the perspective it provides on modern civilization through the lens of human evolution . ..
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By Big Game Trapper on May 26, 2014
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This work really helped think about my current research on Ancient Rome. Thanks to the author for a great resource from an anthropological perspective.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. H. Wagner on September 13, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is very disappointing to discover that in place of several maps that are an integral part of the text of this book, there is a statement in this Kindle edition saying "To view this map consult the print edition of this book." It is therefore false advertising to suggest that this is the same as the print edition.

Moreover, in spite of the fact that the book was recently published there are no page numbers, which are essential for a scholarly book.

The content of the book, however, rates a full five stars.
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