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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 18, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: “I think I can make it.” In 1961, while on an expedition to collect pieces for his father’s Museum of Primitive Art, Michael Rockefeller and his traveling companion were plunged into the warm waters off New Guinea. The billionaire scion tied two empty gas cans to his body for floatation and swam for shore, and by most accounts, he made it. But what happened there, when he encountered members of the Asmat tribe--a culture marked by ritual violence and cannibalism--has been long debated. Did he disappear into the tropical jungles, or was he rendered and eaten by the tribesmen, as many speculated and the Rockefeller family long denied? Award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman has stepped into Rockefeller’s boot prints and Asmat society, interviewing generations of warriors in an exhaustive and engrossing attempt to solve the mystery. The result, Savage Harvest, succeeds not only as a captivating and sensational puzzle, but also as a (seemingly unlikely) modern adventure and a fascinating glimpse of an anachronistic people pulled into the 20th century by the tensions of global politics. So, did he make it? The title might offer a clue. --Jon Foro
Simon Winchester Reviews Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
Carl Hoffman, who with his 2010 book The Lunatic Express demonstrated himself to be a traveler of the greatest courage and determination, as well as a writer of skill, has now made a significant contribution to history. Savage Harvest, a narrative that is as exciting as it is instructive, appears finally to have winnowed the truth from the mare’s nest of legend and wishful thinking surrounding the disappearance in November 1961, of Michael Rockefeller, in a remote region of southwestern New Guinea.The 23-year old, along with a Dutch anthropologist colleague and two young guides, were sailing in a dugout catamaran some three miles from the coast of Asmat. The craft overturned; the two locals swam for help, but as the wreck drifted farther from land an impatient Rockefeller decided to try and make it alone. With two fuel cans to help his buoyancy on what he reckoned would be a twenty-hour swim, he slid into the warm shallows of the Arafura Sea - never to be seen by friends or family again.Did he drown? Was he eaten by a shark? Did he vanish into the jungle, Kurtz-like? Or was he the victim of cannibalism at the hands of coastal villagers? Hoffman has shown that with assiduous tradecraft, hard work and near-obsessive tenacity, it is possible to know, to solve the supposedly insoluble. He has journeyed, twice now, deep into the dark interiors of Asmat, and has conducted interviews and learned the language and listened to sensible men and women – in New Guinea, in the Netherlands, in the anthropology departments of knowledgeable universities. And he has used a severe intelligence to determine just what happened on that warm dawn Monday, November 20, 1961.The Rockefellers – not least Michael’s twin sister Mary, who produced her own book two years ago – may not want to believe this tale; and the family did nothing to help Hoffman in his admirable quest. But the truth, as this book chronicles in patient, meticulous detail, has a way of eking itself out. Savage Harvest is a remarkable testament to the revealed truth, and of its revealing - even if that truth is wholly bizarre and, to most, quite literally unpalatable.
Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author most recently of The Men Who United the States as well as Atlantic, The Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. In 2006 Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.
Top Customer Reviews
Much like Carl Hoffman's previous book, "The Lunatic Express," everything about "Savage Harvest" is audacious: the physical and financial risks of his two trips, the belief that after so long there was still something new to uncover, the challenge of being accepted by the indigenous Asmat people with whom Hoffman lives, and even the notion that a marketable book could be created from a story in which headhunting and cannibalism are central concepts. Even the structure of the book, in which first-person contemporary reporting is combined with detailed, if plausible and well-documented, recreations of historical events indicates a writer who doesn't like to play it safe.
Now, this is not a breezy read. Any book that begins with a graphic account of one man being killed and ritually eaten by other men requires a certain commitment from the reader. This is a book that I read in small sections, thus allowing me to fully process the many implications of the text. "Savage Harvest" demands, and rewards, a lot of thought. The most powerful message presented by "Savage Harvest" is that the Asmat live in a world profoundly different from the one occupied by those who are likely to read this book. Asmat values, Asmat social expectations, and even the relationship between the Asmat and "reality" can be fundamentally alien to a modern, western mind.Read more ›
At first it seemed it would just be a matter of days before Michael would be found and reported alive -- after all he was a Rockefeller. But as the time stretched out, the chances that he would be discovered at all, dimmed. The conventional wisdom had it that undoubtedly he had drown. And then the reports petered out altogether ...
Over the years, intermittent reports trickled-in but became more and more speculative and more and more macabre, until there were only a rash of unconfirmed reports of a death due to cannibalism? Those reports were received with equal measures of tantalizing shock and incredulity; and as often as not, were dismissed.
Now with this book, it seems that after nearly 50 years, we do finally get the full story of what happened to him. And if this story can be trusted, and I believe many parts of it can, it is indeed a story worthy of the long wait.
Apparently, Michael did not drown as many had speculated, but did indeed manage to swim to the Dutch island in question safely.Read more ›
Hoffman chooses to dispense with anything like an introduction. He offers no calm, rational overview of his report on what happened to Michael Rockefeller. Instead, he opens this masterful account with a body slam followed by knockout blow to the jaw: a detailed account, albeit speculative, of how the murder and following rituals of consuming Michael, body and spirit, might have taken place. When you wake up and shake off this stunning blow (never totally), he takes you on an extensive journey into the hearts and spirits of humans who are radically different from those of us in the "civilized" Western European world. Alien and Other, they truly are.
Hoffman speculates that he and Michael Rockefeller were both lured by the opportunity to know first hand these differences, to know them from the inside. The outcome for Hoffman - the experiences that led to this book - is radically different than for Rockefeller's. His was a killing done by those whose world included spirits of their dead who create havoc if not avenged. Hoffman's well-supported speculation is that the Rockefeller scion most likely was a victim of a ritualized murder done to balance the earlier killings of indigenous cannibal headhunters by (white) Dutch soldiers.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the better books I've read this year.
Some people have criticized this book for the portrayal of Rockefeller as a character out of his depth and not understanding what... Read more
Interesting book. This is the third book I have read about Papua New Guinea. I wish the author had used other words at times to describe rape. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Katherine L. Triboli
Perhaps I'm just weird, but this was a relaxing read for the start of my summer break. Well-paced, and with just enough plot twisting to keep you interested without being... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Aaron M.
I give this book 4 star rating. Now I haven't actually read the book yet I'm basing my score solely on other reviews and the books cover. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Heard the stories and watched national geo. However this book leaves little to the imagination. Sad story for all who participated.Published 1 month ago by Robert Beal
A sad tale of someone who seemed to deserve better but followed his dream! Worth the read although hard to follow!Published 1 month ago by Paula S. Mcdaniel
Even as the rich son of a powerful businessman and politician you can get into a lot of trouble (hot water) if you ignore your surroundings and get careless. Read morePublished 2 months ago by J. Agnese