- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 18, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195119126
- ISBN-13: 978-0195119121
- Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage Reprint Edition
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Throughout much of this century the notion has been gaining ground, bolstered by genocide and Holocaust, that modern warfare is more barbaric than war has ever been. Alongside this view has grown a romantic impression that primitive cultures were, and are, more peaceful. Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, aims to dispel this inversion of the connotations of "civilization." He cites the historical evidence that humans have always been just as bloodthirsty as they are today, and that indeed in the days when death was less clinical it was often nastier. War, it seems, has always been with us.
"The evidence that Mr. Keeley marshals is vivid, varied, and often complex."--The New York Times Book Review
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Top Customer Reviews
It also contains some great black humor, such as his recounting of a Maori chief taunting the preserved head of an enemy chief: " You wanted to run away, did you? But my war club overtook you: and after you were cooked, you made food for my mouth. And where is your father? he is cooked:- and where is your brother? he is eaten:- and where is your wife? there she sits, a wife for me:- and where are your children? there they are, with loads on their backs, carrying food, as my slaves."
Humanity is ugly. The simple fact that we are unpleasant, violent apes seems to be lost on certain social classes of people. In my opinion, you can't begin to understand people without understanding that human beings are deeply flawed creatures. We are not made horrible by our social conditions, psychological trauma or any other such nonsense: humanity is just horrible. Any meaningful discussion of sociology, history or politics must start from these assumptions, or they are destructive folly.
For Lawrence Keeley, the study of prehistory (a period which, for some peoples, ended only a few dozen years ago) has been torn between two paradigms: the Hobbesian and the Rousseauian. According to the former, primitives are warlike, and need the institution of the state to put an end to the nastiness and brutishness of their lives. According to the latter, civilization is the corrupter, subverting the harmony and peacefulness of primitive life with overpopulation, greed and the encouragement of exploitative behaviour.
For several decades, the Rousseauian myth has ruled academia, where swords have been "beaten into metaphors": omnipresent fortifications are interpreted as expressions of "the symbolism of exclusion" and weapons as a form of money or status symbols, so that- to paraphrase Keeley- the obviously bellicose becomes the arcanely peaceable.
But what the civilization-bashers had not counted on was that their Big Lie would ultimately be exposed by objective scientists working on the basis of incontrovertible facts: the archeologists, whose patient, reality-oriented detective work completely refutes the fashionable whitewashing of primitive peoples.
What bones tell us is that wars were more common among the primitives than among modern nations, that proportionately more people were involved in them and died in them. Admittedly, those wars were waged on a smaller scale than modern man's, because primitive economies could neither support the large populations nor the impressive logistics that enable modern nations to sustain long-term and wide-ranging war efforts.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good book to better understand the real causes of war for prestate and state civilizations.Published 1 month ago by John Fredericks
This is a very good book, very well written. Exceptional purchase I was going to give as a gift but I opened it up to inspect it and started reading it. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jenny
I assessed this book for a reading in a university course on ancient warfare. I was disappointed to find several fundamental flaws in the intellectual approach, general... Read morePublished 9 months ago by drt
Just an excellent and very convincing, well documented book! The bad news is that there was never a golden age of peace and love, the good news, somehow, is that human nature has... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Narzul Patrick
This is one of the best books on the topic I have ever read. It is well written and accompanied by a profusion of charts and tables with lots of data that supports the thesis that... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Odysseus at home
An outstanding, eye-opening and much needed scientific tablet of truth. It should be required reading in every high school. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Aquinas James