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Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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"An insightful and well-written book, describing the hard transition of foraging communities in Namibia from relative affluence during the Stone Age to contemporary poverty and misery. Avoiding both modern conceits and romantic fantasies, Suzman chronicles how economics and politics have finally conquered some of the last outposts of hunter-gatherers, and how much humankind can still learn from the disappearing way of life of the most marginalized communities on earth." - Yuval Noah Harari, author of SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN KIND and HOMO DEUS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF TOMORROW
"Mr Suzman deftly weaves his experiences and observations with lessons on human evolution, the history of human migration and the fate of African communities since the arrival of Europeans. The overarching aim of the book is more ambitious still: to challenge the reader’s ideas about both hunter-gatherer life and human nature." - The Economist
"Suzman’s descriptive prose and affection for his subjects generate the reader’s genuine empathy…This fascinating glimpse into a disappearing way of life leads Suzman to reflect on our world today: a world where wealth and possessions are valued above all other pursuits. Suzman’s account of the lives of Bushmen, past and present, offers plenty of fuel for thought." - Rachel Newcomb, The Washington Post
"To know what it is like to live as people lived for most of human history, you would have to find one of the places where traditional hunting-and-gathering practices are still alive…Fortunately for us, the anthropologist James Suzman did exactly that…The news here is that the lives of most of our progenitors were better than we think. We’re flattering ourselves by believing that their existence was so grim and that our modern, civilized one is, by comparison, so great." - John Lancaster, The New Yorker
"This book has truth on every page and is filled with important insights that range from hunting and tracking to how we think about time, money, value or success." - Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of THE HARMLESS PEOPLE and THE OLD WAY
"This beautiful book--part memoir, part ethnography--offers a window into the lives of one of the most enduring of human cultures . . . If you have ever wondered how it might be to measure wealth not by material possessions but by the strength of social relations between people, read this book." - Wade Davis, author of THE WAYFINDERS and INTO THE SILENCE
"[A] fascinating book. . . Part-ethnography, part-memoir, this is a poignant account of a culture on the brink of extinction." - Sunday Times
"Suzman’s talent for evoking the region’s vast and haunting landscapes, his elegiac account of a passing covenant with nature, and his warm and compassionate character sketches of individual Ju’/hoansi, make this a fascinating and at times profoundly moving work of literary non-fiction." - The Irish Times
"[A] beautiful, heartfelt paean. AFFLUENCE WITHOUT ABUNDANCE is learned without being condescending, tender yet unsentimental. It is both a celebration of an ancient way of life and a lament for all that has been lost in our own headlong pursuit of the material." - Peter Godwin, author of MUKIWA and WHEN A CROCODILE EATS THE SUN
"[T]hrough neglect, abuse and misunderstanding, an ancient way of life is being finally extinguished… Yet, Suzman argues, even now the Bushmen have much to teach us about a social order that, in many ways, offered a freer, fairer existence and a non-invasive adaption to ecology." - Ben Collyer, New Scientist
"[Suzman creates] a feeling for the landscape, the difficulties encountered by the Bushmen, and the pleasures of their simple, if rapidly changing, way of life... In all, this is a delightful book, full of perceptiveness and understanding." - Science
About the Author
James Suzman, Ph.D., is an anthropologist specializing in the Khoisan peoples of southern Africa. A recipient of the Smuts Commonwealth Fellowship in African Studies at Cambridge University, he is now the director of Anthropos Ltd., a think tank that applies anthropological methods to solving contemporary social and economic problems. He lives in Cambridge, England.
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This point has been made by other anthropologists, but Suzman makes it particularly well. His book also brings us up to date about current San circumstances and the picture he draws is not at all pretty. As the fingers of the urban-industrial world have groped their way into the once barely accessible back country of southern Africa, most of the more or less contented nomadic San have been become marginalized and demoralized.
I say "more or less" contented San because, as the author makes clear, the well-known egalitarianism of these people was sustained not only by an ethic of sharing, but also by readily expressed jealousy. It's hard to accumulate wealth when all around you are accusing you of being a selfish, anti-social jerk.
I have read quite a few accounts of the San, but this is the best I have read in quite a while, and certainly the most informative about relatively recent social changes. And it is full of thought-provoking observations. One that I remember particularly well is that our genetic selves may have evolved in the Paleolithic hunting-gathering context, but much of our current way of thinking and behaving is rooted in our more recent Neolithic past, when our ancestors took to plant cultivation and animal domestication.
It is easy to read and should be easily readable by the bright tenth grader. It should be easy reading for high school students who are interested in majoring in one of the social sciences, though its deeper lessons may take a re-read when they are in college.