- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne; First edition (September 21, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780062502896
- ISBN-13: 978-0062502896
- ASIN: 0062502891
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 151 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future Paperback – September 21, 1988
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Some books are like revelations, they open the spirit to unimaginable possibilities. The Chalice and the Blade is one of those magnificent key books that can transform us and...initiate fundamental changes in the world. With the most passionate eloquence, Riane Eisler proves that the dream of peace is not an impossible utopia. -- Isabelle Allende, author of The House of the Spirits
“Everyone…should have the opportunity to read it.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Validates a belief in humanity’s capacity for benevolence and cooperation in the face of so much destruction.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“The Chalice and the Blade may be the most significant work published in all our lifetimes.” (LA Weekly)
“Some books are like revelations, they open the spirit to unimaginable possibilities. The Chalice and the Blade is one of those magnificent key books that can transform us and… initiate fundamental changes in the world.” (Isabel Allende)
“The most important book since Darwin’s Origin of Species .” (Ashley Montagu)
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1) the historical accuracy of Eisler's claims are contested and
2) it was perceived as an intentionally dichotomous (men vs. women or good vs. bad) and/or polarizing analysis.
Firstly, the historical narrative that Eisler posits is not to be interpreted as absolute truth and a big part of Eisler's message is that history is always written with intentions. For the past several thousand years, history has been written and rewritten by men in power so that said men in power can remain in power and/or the power structures that support them can continue to exist. The reason that Eisler's claims are so inflammatory is because instead of using sources of information that prioritize men's histories (which is pretty much all of the sources), she attempts to use sources of information that are prioritizing women's histories. These sources are so few and far between that it makes Eisler's scholarship appear hollow or foundation-less; "She uses such few sources to make such a bold claim!" OBVIOUSLY. Male-centric historical research refuses to recognize or document women's histories, and then whenever someone makes an attempt, they are labeled as shoddy empiricists. The whole system of historical research is rigged against women's studies in such a way that it discredits those who try to shed light on the purposefully forgotten bits of our pasts. Even if Eisler's scholarship is "bad," that does not detract from her message in the slightest. Just as men have twisted history to maintain patriarchal power systems, why can't a woman twist history in order to help us break free from them? To accept all of the history we have been fed in school that indoctrinates us with man's superiority without a grain of salt and then to be critical of this work is entirely hypocritical.
Secondly, this book is not about men vs. women. It is not about men being "bad" and women being "good." You didn't even try to read the book if that's what you got out of it. There are certain aspects of humanity that are valued in different ways. Because men are in control and men have gained control through violence and oppression, it ends up that masculine values are might, strength, independence, stoicism, etc. Because women are not in control, they are assigned the aspects of humanity that are opposites: love, emotional expression, affiliation, care, etc. Eisler does not once say that these qualities are inherent to either men or women, they are assigned to men or women based on the dominant cultural ideology. All that Eisler is saying is that these aspects of humanity that have been relegated to women: love, emotion, child-care, vulnerability, etc., should be more highly valued by all humans, and that other aspects, like violence and hierarchy, should be left behind. Who doesn't agree with that?? besides people who greatly benefit from the patriarchal systems that use violence and oppression to exploit other people.
My only qualm with this book is that is does not mention non-gender conforming history at all. I would imagine that the history of people who would be considered trans, intersex, non-binary, etc. would be even more deeply buried than that of women's history, but it isn't discussed. A shame and hopefully people are working on digging up these narratives as well.
Eisler is not arguing that men are bad and women are good. She's pointing out, through scholarship, that an egalitarian society is possible and is more emotionally healthy than the violence-riddled patriarchal one we live in today.
I subsequently bought my own paperback copy, which I loan to friends, and then this, the 30th anniversary edition as a Kindle title.
As we are presented with mounting archeological evidence from a great many Neolithic cultural sites that proves humanity was capable of peaceful social organization and technological advances, Eisler presents an excellent social analysis of what this new knowledge implies for our present and future.
The crux of her message, that human potential is stunted in dominator societies that use force to maintain their rigid social hierarchies, is supported by ample evidence from numerous sources. The new alternative, a continuation of the interrupted ancient partnership model that emphasizes the linking of humanity in peaceful equality, starting with the most fundamental step of linking women with men, as opposed to the ranking of one half of humanity over the other, is presented as essential to our very survival as a species.
The book is superbly researched, and though it presents a broad, sweeping view that often leaves unanswered questions (one of my persistent questions is how to defend against force without simply presenting a counter-force), it offers a great array of resources for further reading. While I thought this book would answer my questions, it actually made me ask new questions and awoke within me a voracity to learn more, which I suspect is its intent. Above all, it gives us useful tools and terminology for reading between the lines and lies of our dominate cultural worldview, and these help dispel confusion and hopelessness for all who work for a peaceful world.
Now to address the inaccurate nature of some prior reviewers of this book (you know who you are):
Eisler clearly defines, numerous times, the difference between dominator hierarchies, in which a pyramidal social system uses force to maintain its power structure, and systems hierarchies, in which functions increase in complexity and function, as in biological systems such as cells to organs. The social parallels to the latter are virtually nonexistent, but Eisler is very careful with this definition nonetheless, to avoid confusion. Also, as it would be very clear to anyone who actually read the book, the characterization of life-affirming values such as caring, nurturing, creativity, and intuition as "feminine" in this book is always done in the context of how these values are perceived in a social system based on ranking and enforced by violence. The characterization of these qualities as feminine in this context is meant to discourage the male half of humanity from espousing them. The characterization masculine the qualities of domination and violence is how these rank-based systems maintain the status-quo. This idea of assigning a gender to specific life-affirming or destructive attributes is horribly damaging to men and women. To anyone who actually read the book, it would have been obvious that the alternative to social structures in which men dominate women is NOT those in which women dominate men. It is a society in which women and men are linked as equals. And if women happen to get mentioned ahead of men in this book, it is a literary courtesy whose time has come.