- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 22, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521691052
- ISBN-13: 978-0521691055
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,998,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Theft of History
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"The author is famous; the analysis is cogent and stimulating."
--Robert L. Tignor, Princeton University, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"The book will be welcomed to graduate seminars or to advanced classes in the historiography of world history." -Jared Poley, World History Bulletin
"The problem of Eurocentrism in the social science is real and Goody's critique, bases upon impressive research, is both lucid and warranted." -Richard Reitan, Journal of World History
"In his broad and sweeping new book...the prolific Jack Goody once again endorses revisionist arguments and takes issue with Eurocentric historical narratives on two important registers." -Ajay Skaria, Journal of Modern History
Jack Goody builds on his own work to extend his influential critique of what he sees as the pervasive eurocentric or occidentalist biases of western historical writing, and the consequent 'theft' by the West of the achievements of other cultures in the invention of (notably) democracy, capitalism, individualism, and love.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Theft of History" refers to the way in which the non-European cultures are part of the popular received opinion in the Western world only in the denigrating, false and imperialist manner in which the 19th century colonial historians and anthropologists portrayed them, and that only insofar as they appear in supposed world history at all. This is done in similar manner as in the books of James Blaut, André Gunder Frank, Eric Wolf and so forth, only Goody is less polemical than these and focuses in particular on the cultural aspects. The first part here treads the familiar ground (at least among people who have read this before, not among the general public or even intellectuals!) of refuting Eurocentric feudalism, the 'Asiatic mode of production', Asian backwardness etc.
The rest of the book goes into the cultural-anthropological aspects, which Goody is more unique in talking about in this context. These include but are not limited to the "theft of love" (the claim 'romantic love' was an invention of High Medieval European culture), the "theft of institutions" (universities, charities, city-states as unique to Europe), and the "theft of values" (democracy, individualism, etc. as unique to Europe). Goody with much British understatement does a great job of both spotting and demolishing these claims and assumptions, and in the process is very informative about the cultural exchange between Europe and other parts of the world from very early times on. What is also interesting is that unlike most of the above mentioned authors, he does not particularly contrast Europe with Asia, but rather with Africa (where he did field work) and the Arab world.
Goody does share with Frank the problem of going overboard occasionally in wanting to dismiss useful political economic concepts that have been used Eurocentrically in the past, such as feudalism and capitalism, which throws away the baby with the bath-water. He also occasionally misses the forest for the trees, in focusing too much on the Eurocentric errors (often out of unfamiliarity rather than malice) of otherwise progressive historians without duly acknowledging their good side, such as with Sir Moses Finley/Finkelstein.
But these are minor criticisms. This book is yet another excellent introductory refutation of Eurocentric common conceptions, and due to its particular focus it is especially useful for people of a cultural history or anthropological bent.
While I am sympathetic with Goody's approach, the result is something far less interesting than any of the "ethnocentric" historians he is arguing against have produced. Goody is right, I think, to emphasize the exchange of goods and information in the formation of global processes. For Goody's descriptions of the university, the free city, and love, this approach works just fine. The problem is that Goody, like many anthropologists, is ultimately arguing for a particular ontology, rather than adjudicating between possible explanations for the emergence of a particular phenomena. And for explaining the origin(s) and spread of capitalism, the commodification of labor power and the revolution of the means of production--things that apply to today's Chinese capitalism no less than any other capitalist producer--I am not sure how useful it is to point out that China developed an urban mercantile class before Europeans. But perhaps I have lapsed into the ethnocentricity Goody is arguing against.
As a final comment, the book would benefit considerably from a more detailed discussion of Goody's methods.