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Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures Paperback – June 4, 1991
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From the Inside Flap
"[A] magisterial interpretation of the rise and fall of human cultures and societies."
-- Robert Lekachman, Washington Post Book World
"Its persuasive arguments asserting the primacy of cultural rather than genetic or psychological factors in human life deserve the widest possible audience."
-- Gloria Levitas The New Leader
"[An] original and...urgent theory about the nature of man and at the reason that human cultures take so many diverse shapes."
-- The New Yorker
"Lively and controversial."
-- I. Bernard Cohen, front page, The New York Times Book Review
Top Customer Reviews
Mainly Harris is marvelously satirical. The narrative sparkles with put downs of religiosity or any sort of sanctimonious BS. Harris pronounces from on high, however. He seems to believe that his speculations about how or why something happened are almost certainly going to be supported by the evidence (when the field work catches up with his theories!) He was the author that showed me that the prohibition against eating pork in the Middle East and beef in India was based not so much on religious scruples but on economic self-interest dressed up as prohibitions from the gods. In this book Harris leads me to believe that all human taboos even those against murder may be culturally derived, rather than instinctively based. The horror stories that he focuses on here, especially about the Aztec cannibals, seem to prove that if we want protein enough and can't get it, we will as a people set up a religion that makes it sacred to kill whatever is available, including prisoners of war, as the Aztecs did, to get that protein; after which, we will rationalize our actions as injunctions from the gods.Read more ›
Marvin Harris uses his wit and humor to make a book of great importance easy to read. He takes us on a journey from the caves to capitalism and fills us in on how and why societies differed. He talks about how cannibalism, female infanticide, war, patriarchy, and capitalism arose in various areas. He shows how adaptation to population pressure shaped the way a society developed, and how the local ecology played a major role in making societies different. He takes us right up to contemporary times, where he shows us that we have to adapt to our population explosion by intensifying our technology.
A warning though, this book can scare you. After reading how population explosion and intensification lead to massive changes in society, you are left to wonder where we are headed. If you have read Malthus's 'An Essay on the Principle of Population' and Toffler's 'Future Shock' the effect hits harder. You really begin to see the 'big picture' and realize that our current pace of change can't hold.
This book also gives you a hint that the idea of a four-day workweek is just a pipe dream. As our population continues to grow, we will have to spend more time feeding and caring for it. It turns out that primitive humans have had the most leisure time of all of us.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A set of intriguing and compelling arguments as to why different cultures did what they did. For instance, why don't Jews and Arabs eat pork? Read morePublished 6 months ago by ainadude
I found this book thought-provoking and logical. If you are interested in anthropology, this author is a must read!Published 12 months ago by Jamine Dettmering
This book explains the true causes of the nature of the forms of society/culture and how they change. Read morePublished 12 months ago by D K
Good to help understand many different cultures and early religions; older book, but the concepts and history interesting, not "dated"Published 13 months ago by L. Brooks
The book smelled like it has been stored in a damp musty place for 20 yearsPublished 18 months ago by Perry Hartwig