Noble Savages by Napoleon Chagnon
My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists

68%

6 Critic Reviews

...has an oddly uneven tone. He takes an adolescent pleasure in describing the rawness of Yanomamo life...He displays plenty of machismo, both real and assumed...
-The Economist

Synopsis

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC MEMOIRS OF OUR TIME

When Napoleon Chagnon arrived in Venezuela’s Amazon region in 1964 to study the Yanomamö Indians, one of the last large tribal groups still living in isolation, he expected to find Rousseau’s “noble savages,” so-called primitive people living contentedly in a pristine state of nature. Instead Chagnon discovered a remarkably violent society. Men who killed others had the most wives and offspring, their violence possibly giving them an evolutionary advantage. The prime reasons for violence, Chagnon found, were to avenge deaths and, if possible, abduct women.

When Chagnon began publishing his observations, some cultural anthropologists who could not accept an evolutionary basis for human behavior refused to believe them. Chagnon became perhaps the most famous American anthropologist since Margaret Mead—and the most controversial. He was attacked in a scathing popular book, whose central allegation that he helped start a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö was quickly disproven, and the American Anthropological Association condemned him, only to rescind its condemnation after a vote by the membership. Throughout his career Chagnon insisted on an evidence-based scientific approach to anthropology, even as his professional association dithered over whether it really is a scientific organization. In Noble Savages, Chagnon describes his seminal fieldwork—during which he lived among the Yanomamö, was threatened by tyrannical headmen, and experienced an uncomfortably close encounter with a jaguar—taking readers inside Yanomamö villages to glimpse the kind of life our distant ancestors may have lived thousands of years ago. And he forcefully indicts his discipline of cultural anthropology, accusing it of having traded its scientific mission for political activism.

This book, like Chagnon’s research, raises fundamental questions about human nature itself.
 

About Napoleon Chagnon

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Napoleon Chagnon is distinguished research professor at the University of Missouri and adjunct research scientist at the University of Michigan, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He formerly taught at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Penn State, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan. He is the author of five previous academic books and lives in Columbia, Missouri.
 
Published February 19, 2013 by Simon & Schuster. 545 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Noble Savages
All: 6 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by ELIZABETH POVINELLI on Feb 15 2013

If your belief in your culture’s superiority is founded on thinking of other societies as prehistoric time capsules, then you will enjoy this book.

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WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Charles C Mann on Feb 22 2013

Understanding what lessons we can draw from the extraordinarily detailed picture of native lives that Mr. Chagnon has so carefully compiled may be a task for another, more levelheaded, generation of researchers.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Dr. Lydia Pyne on Feb 19 2013

Noble Savages is a compelling read—certainly within the history of anthropology and definitely within the traditions of memoir and autobiography.

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The Economist

Above average
on Feb 23 2013

...has an oddly uneven tone. He takes an adolescent pleasure in describing the rawness of Yanomamo life...He displays plenty of machismo, both real and assumed...

Read Full Review of Noble Savages: My Life Among ... | See more reviews from The Economist

AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Phil Dyess-Nugent on Apr 22 2013

Noble Savages is a lively contribution to one of the great scientific shitstorms of the past several years, but the definitive account of Chagnon and his tormentors is yet to be written, probably by someone who can think about the whole case without his blood pressure soaring into the red zone.

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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Phil Dyess-Nugent on Apr 22 2013

Noble Savages is a lively contribution to one of the great scientific shitstorms of the past several years...

Read Full Review of Noble Savages: My Life Among ... | See more reviews from AV Club

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