- Paperback: 536 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; 2 edition (September 21, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520268180
- ISBN-13: 978-0520268180
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Europe and the People Without History 2nd Edition
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"In this big and important book, Eric Wolf begins and ends with the assertion that anthropology must pay more attention to history. . . . It is with pleasure, then, that one reads a critical analysis that rejects pseudo- historical oppositions and explores with such care the historical processes by which primitive and peasant pasts have become a fundamentally altered primitive, peasant, and proletarian present." -- William Roseberry, Dialectical Anthropology
"The work of a powerful theoretical intelligence, but one informed by a lived sense of social realities." -- Times Literary Supplement
"Wolf has created a history of connection rather than one of segregation. . . . This absorbing and stimulating book . . . provides a convincing and, dare I say, new perspective. . . . By emphasizing a common past, Wolf moves away from weary polarities of active 'white' centre and passive 'non- white' periphery and suggests both a more complex and a more informed sense of the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world." -- Ben Jay, European Update
"Wolf's empirical knowledge is exceptionally wide. . . . He relies on a skillful selection of phenomena in time and space that are reasonably representative of the totality. . . . The book is very well written and with a profoundly human touch." -- Magnus Mrner, Ethnos
"Wolf's intention is to explain the development and nature of the chains of cause and consequence which linked populations in the post-1400 world. The outcome is a tightly structured and elegant book." -- Oceania
"Wolf's intention is to show that European expansion not only transformed the historical trajectory of non-European societies but also reconstituted their historical accounts of their societies before European intervention. . . . His historical sweep and analytic breadth are astounding, and he gives approximately equal weight to historical 'winners' and 'losers.'" --Michael S. Kimmel, American Journal of Sociology
About the Author
Top customer reviews
The specific historical circumstances and geographic location Wolf argues were the catalysts to the rise of the European powers. He argues that the Ottomans and other powers in the east forced the European rulers to focus their efforts on westward expansion. Apart from the power superiority in the east the divided fragmented nature of the European world ultimately also aided expansion. The power vacuum in Europe during this period made for constant warring and plotting by different rulers and ‘states.’ This led to increase in mercantile pursuits that were first seen by the merchant republics of Italy. Constant warring and vying for power allowed for these merchants to prosper greatly. Demand for resources in different areas quickly increased the exchange and volume of traded goods. With this increase in trade and commerce came a constant increase in innovation and efficiency, in both the allocation of resources and in their production. During this time an increase in technology also allowed for more productive travel, which in turn resulted in an even greater increase in trade. Ultimately this mercantile background in Europe and the Ottoman power gap in the east is what made for Explorers like Columbus to set commerce minded expeditions across the Atlantic. Wolf then covers the effects of this rise on native populations and the resulting lead to Capitalism.
The discovery of new vegetables and resources in the new world led to rapidly increases in overall demand. This huge explosion of demand quickly became unsustainable further jeopardizing the well being of local native populations. Exotic luxury items and resources were heavily demanded by Europeans, whom quickly became dependent on such goods, further increasing their demand. Slavery and different forms of indentured servitude also took off during this period. Greatly impacting the demographics of local populations and dispersing other groups. While the native populations had already greatly suffered from disease and early explorers, the demand for production depleted local numbers to an even greater extent. As mentioned by Wolf, entire populations of natives seized to exist while the vast majorities were relocated to lands they were not familiar with. At the same time new demographics in the south of America were created, by being the first region to have a self-replicating slave population. Apart from the toll on local people and slave labor, it was during this time that the European powers quickly moved towards what is currently identified as capitalism. While the demand for a constant increase in production and profit was extremely detrimental to local groups, it is clear that this demand of production resulted in constant innovation allowing for the rapid advances seen by ‘western’ society. Colonial interests coupled with the focus on production and trade created an economic and technological gap between Europe and the rest of the world that is only starting to be balanced today. This rise is what resulted in the modern concept of anthropology, thus to understand anthropology it is vital to understand it’s historical background.
I believe Eric Wolf’s work to be a tremendous historical background and framework for both anthropology and for history. I would highly recommend this book not only to students of anthropology but of many other disciplines as well. From history to economics Europe and The People without History is a fascinating informative read. The important questions of why the ‘west’ became the west, and the factors that made it so seem to be asked less and less. Instead society seems to gloss over history and think that the european powers were always in some way superior, and thus destined to colonize the new world first. Wolf’s work does a perfect job of explaining the the reality of european expansion and why mechanisms such as capitalism resulted. It is very important to be able to understand that our modern society is just one culture and that does not necessarily mean it is the best one. Instead it is vital to know that things are as they are for very specific historic/geographic reasons. Had certain cultures not boomed or busted when than they did then it could have been the Chinese sailing to the New World or even the West Africans before Europe. History is certainly in the past, but understanding the background behind modern society helps a person understand why we have our mindset. To understand anthropology one must understand the biases and background behind our modern perspective, Wolf’s book does a terrific job of doing this and I recommended it to everyone interested in the field.
Without doubt, this can be very interesting and enlightening. First, exploration brought the many peoples of the world into closer contact than ever before. This spread disease, with some catastrophic impacts, such as the smallpox plagues that devastated the Americas, killing perhaps 9/10 of the indigenous populations. Second, this opened the way to a vast expansion of slavery, essentially enlarging "tribute economies", whereby land owners would be able to profit from the labor of others as international markets expanded to a global scale with improvements in shipping and the like. Though zero-sum in its essence, it preserved many traditional structures that guaranteed peasants and slaves certain rights to home, food, and other aspects of care from seignieurs or masters. Third, as England industrialized, the possibility of capitalism emerged, whereby technology was applied into much larger organizations and workers were employed as disposable commodity inputs while transportation costs continued to fall. This eventually became the dominant economic paradigm. Throughout all of this, traditional structures had to evolve or face annihilation.
This is a very nice nutshell, something intellectuals can use to demonstrate their grasp of the global economy. Unfortunately, I see many problems with the approach, which is a bit too clean. Perhaps most importantly, in his distaste for free enterprise, Wolf consistently underestimates the dynamism of capitalism: the captains of industry must reinvest their profits if they wish to survive, i.e. they must be ready to cannibalize their business or fade into obsolescence and bankruptcy. Moreover, Wolf completely fails to distinguish between different kinds of capitalism: the US, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Germany operate very differently and with wide variations in their results - it is a function of their cultures and history, which undermines the central thesis of the book. Instead, he just seems to look at them as monolithic machines of exploitation, which is simplistic to say the least. Finally, he does not even mention the way that capitalism, coupled with the application of chemical energy, have helped to raise living standards as well as personal freedoms to unprecedented heights. You do not have to be a conservative to see this.
As a reading experience, this book is also badly lacking. There are long theoretical sections that are worth a careful read, but they are abstruse and extremely dull, often incomprehensible. Wolf was an anthropologist, so he focuses to an inordinate extent on hierarchies, institutional forms, etc. As the book dates from the early 1980s, many of the ideas are obsolete or not new. As the collapse of the USSR and the transformation of China attest, Marxist economics are not nearly as successful as free enterprise; yet the book was written before these developments.
Of course, there are many sections that I genuinely enjoyed, such as the descriptions of how Amer-Indians adapted, how slavery was an integral contributor to the early stages of industrialization and capitalism, and how an urban proletariat emerged from a rural peasantry. These ideas are important and should be reviewed, even if only to disagree with them.
Recommended with these caveats. I will return to this book as a reference but never re-read it for pleasure.