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Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes - the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  247 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
The most controversial and famous anthropologist of modern time describes his seminal lifelong research among the Yanomamo Indians of the Amazon basin and how his startling observations provoked admiration among many fellow anthropologists and outrage among others.
ebook, 544 pages
Published February 19th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2013)
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The Economist - book reviews 2013 Q1-2
44th out of 95 books — 27 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,201)
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Louise
Jul 14, 2013 Louise rated it liked it
This is two books in one. The first describes the author's field research and how he lived among the Yanomamo people in the 1960's and 70's. The second is the reaction his work stirred up and Chagnon's defense against attacks on his work, methods and ethics by anthropologists, missionaries and advocates for indigenous people.

If the first part of the book stood on its own I would not be reviewing the book in such a skeptical fashion. While there are many interesting stories the information given
...more
Nancy
Apr 15, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, memoir, politics
This book is mostly about Chagnon's research and experience with the Yanomamo in South America. While I found it hard to connect with Yanomamo life, I had to admire Chagnon for his work gathering data in very difficult surroundings.

Because the final chapters chronicle his squabbles with postmodern academics, some reviewers have panned the book. It is hard for me to take postmodern attitudes seriously (see Postmodern Pooh) so it was easy for me to "side with" Chagnon.
Stephen
Dec 05, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“The probability is close to zero that any contemporary anthropologist will have the opportunity to be the first representative of his or her culture to contact tribal peoples who have never seen outsiders before or who have had fleeting encounters with outsiders. In the Amazon Basin, for example, remaining uncontacted tribes consist of a few families who are hiding out in the remaining hidden pockets of unexplored difficult-to-reach areas. The Yanomamö were the last large, multivillage tribe le ...more
Sandra
Jul 07, 2014 Sandra rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Essentially two books in one, the first part being an autoethnograpical account of the authors time spent working with various Yanomamo tribes in the Amazon region of Venezuela (mixed in with some ethnographic data every once in a while) and the last part (the last few chapters of this large book) discussing the feuds between Chagon and those members of the anthropology community who did not validate his sociobiological research methods and conclusions (mainly that the main reason for warfare am ...more
Ummia Gina
Mar 08, 2013 Ummia Gina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-sciences
This book was excellent. I would recommend it to anyone. This review for it from The New York Times is a pretty good review of it:

Review of Noble Savages
By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: February 18, 2013

An Anthropologist’s War Stories
"Noble Savages"
By NICHOLAS WADE

NOBLE SAVAGES
My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists
By Napoleon A. Chagnon
Illustrated. 531 pp. Simon & Schuster. $32.50.

What were our early ancestors really like as they accomplished the
transition f
...more
Liz
Jun 04, 2013 Liz rated it really liked it
I read this book following my reading of Anne Patchett's "State of Wonder" which is set in the Amazon rainforest.

This is a big book and is in two part. Part 1 is about the Yamamomo tribe and their way of life as observed by Chagnon over 30 years of study which included long periods living with them.

Part 2 is a chronicle of the difficulty he faced with fellow anthropologists. What I found amazing is that many anthropologists do not consider that their field is a science but rather consider their
...more
Chris Jones
Apr 06, 2015 Chris Jones rated it liked it
This should be a thrilling account of an anthropologists encounter with a preneolithic people but unfortunately is written quite dryly. This could be a five star book if just the writing had a bit more life.

That being said it is still a good introduction to the Yanomami and the seriously vitriolic controversy caused by this author's time with them.
Amanda Fleming
I received this book from Goodreads First Reads. It was a lovely, yet long read. A very interesting and detailed description of life as we have never known it, and never will again. What I found intriguing was the inside look into the academic field of anthropology in the mid 20th century. I never imagined there to be so much corruption among academics. This book was a learning experience in many ways.
Claire
Feb 16, 2014 Claire rated it liked it
I received Noble Savages as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Napoleon Chagnon first visited the Yanomamo tribes, scattered around the Brazilian-Venezuelan border, in the 1960s. Over the course of three decades and numerous additional site visits, he has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research on life within this little-known, stateless tribe, largely removed from modern political authority. The conclusions Chagnon reaches about basic human nature have made him many enemies among the aca
...more
Tia
Apr 28, 2013 Tia rated it liked it
This guy seemed kind of like a jerk. His insights about the Yamomano were fascinating, but his eagerness to make sweeping generalizations about the motivations of humans in some primitive, evolutionary past put me off. While the Yamomano surely do provide some insight, there are many other societies on Earth that seem equally cut off from civilization and yet don't seem to have the same societal structure.
Also, the griping about his fights with other anthropologists was boring.
Megan
Jul 11, 2013 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This had the potential to be a great book and missed the mark by a mile. It needed an editor to tighten up the narrative which was repetitive and disorganized. Chagon is clearly very impressed with his own work and spends much of the book expressing how his ideas are better than everyone else's. I skipped the last two chapters which appeared to be tales of academic infighting. The Yanomamo lost out on this one.
Dave
Mar 02, 2014 Dave rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I abandoned this book about a third of the way through. I found the author self absorbed and quite annoying to be honest. He seems more interested in pushing his narrow purview on modern anthropology than in telling the tale. It should have, could have been a very interesting book. Pity.
Don O'goodreader
Two books in one ... an enlightening history of the Yanomamo and a sad memoir of the anthropologist who spent his life studying them.

Noble Savages by Napolean Chagnon covers the author's three decades with the Yanomamo, a people living on the border of Venezuela and Brazil, some of whom who when he arrived in 1964 had never had any contact with the outside world. He lived with them long periods during his annual research trips. He learned their language and they became trusted friends.

They play
...more
Claire
Mar 09, 2014 Claire rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received Noble Savages as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Napoleon Chagnon first visited the Yanomamo tribes, scattered around the Brazilian-Venezuelan border, in the 1960s. Over the course of three decades and numerous additional site visits, he has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research on life within this little-known, stateless tribe, largely removed from modern political authority. The conclusions Chagnon reaches about basic human nature have made him many enemies among the aca
...more
Sam Schulman
Jun 15, 2015 Sam Schulman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: marriage, anthro, hbd
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bob Wrathall
Nov 11, 2013 Bob Wrathall rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book totally ignorant of the controversy surrounding Chagnon, between his sociobiology supporters and his cultural anthropologist detractors. The outlines of the conflict developed rather slowly and became vivid in the last half of the book where Chagnon defends himself, very ably, against his slanderers.

I was captivated by this man's determination to study this group of people. The first part of this memoir describes his life among the Yanomamo Indians. He starts with hi
...more
Jesse
Oct 04, 2013 Jesse marked it as to-read
Shelves: _touched
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David Harris
Jul 12, 2013 David Harris rated it really liked it
Every once in a while, you hear about uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, New Guinea or Indonesia. For a long time, I've been interested in reading detailed accounts of what life is like for these isolated groups. Chagnon's account does not disappoint. The book contains a wealth of interesting stories about his travels among the various villages, what the villages are like, how they get too large and break up into smaller groups from time to time, and what it's like to live in this environment.

I t
...more
Seth Benzell
May 09, 2014 Seth Benzell rated it liked it
I read this book while at the NJ State Bar Association Annual Meetings: an assemblage of another proud tribe ripe for anthropological analysis.

The author's main scientific argument is that, contrary to his Marxist colleagues' belief that family follows function, blood indeed runs thicker than water. Either hypothesis sounds reasonable to me, but without a view from the other side, it is hard to have an informed opinion, though Napoleon does argue elegantly for his view.

Stephen J
Apr 15, 2013 Stephen J rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book about an intrepid anthropologist who lived with remote tribes in the Amazon basin for 20+ years and documented the important role competition for women plays in the incessant warfare among the tribes. Just as fascinating is the documentation of the anthropology communities rejection of his findings because of ideological beliefs. This insightful book will most likely change the readers view of human nature and the world we live in. A remarkable story.

Merged review:

A fascinatin
...more
Amanda Gain
Jan 29, 2016 Amanda Gain rated it it was ok
I found the first portion of the book to be interesting and worth reading. Chagnon describes snippets of his 20+ years of fieldwork with the Yanamamo.

The final section of the book focuses on the reaction to Chagnon's work. For me, these final chapters called into question everything that I read previously. Chagnon sounds self righteous and whiney. His distaste for activists and political correctness left me feeling like he isn't exactly trustworthy.
S.m. Elliott
May 04, 2013 S.m. Elliott rated it liked it
Chagnon is, as always, engaging and compelling. He saves the "good stuff" - his response to various accusations and allegations - for the last two chapters, but he does have a few explosive allegations of his own seeded throughout the book. While I'm not ready to decide if he's a white devil or not, it's difficult to judge him too harshly after reading this book. He undoubtedly faced many dangers during his fieldwork, and some of the charges leveled at him by Patrick Tierney and others are simpl ...more
Ron Nurmi
Jan 18, 2016 Ron Nurmi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chagnon did field work among the Yanomamo Indians in the Venezuela's Amazon region beginning in 1964. Many of his fellow cultural anthropologists could not accept his evolutionary basis for human behavior and this led to much discord over the years. Also many did not accept his research that showed the Yanomamo warred with each other over women.
Tim
Mar 04, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
Napoleon Chagnon provides a concise picture of his years of field research over decades with the Amazon Indian tribe that are the main subjects of his studies. It's an interesting read and his recall of anecdotes lends itself well to the overall picture he paints. These parts of the book are well written and draw the reader into the world inhabited by Chagnon and the adopted tribe during his field trips. When he delves into the reception of his theories by his peers one can feel the obviously de ...more
Dave
Sep 27, 2014 Dave rated it liked it
While he draws some ridiculous conclusions about primitive societies based on his time with one tribe, one notoriously known for violence, and he spends a lot of time trying to prove the obvious (that biology is an influence on behavior, people fight over sexual partners, etc.), his story is at least interesting.
Hernando Giraldo tenorio
Nobles salvajes es un libro que mezcla tres cosas: 1)la narración de las experiencias de campo de Chagnon entre los diversos grupos Yanomano (incluido el pólemico asunto de su relación con el grupo de Neel, la toma de pruebas de sangre y la fatal epidemia de sarampíon) y su relación con los salesianos (un grupo de la iglesia Católica que tiene misiones en diferentes partes del mundo que buscan convertir a los pueblos no occidentales); 2)Un resumen de los resultados de su trabajo de campo, aunque ...more
Alina
Aug 22, 2015 Alina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A fascinating and important book. Chagnon's account of his time among the Yanomamo of the Amazon forest is an absorbing portrait of a tribal people little touched by Western civilization. His struggle to overcome a witch hunt intended to suppress his research is a wake up call to anyone who cares about the integrity of the scientific process. In Chagnon's case the facts eventually won, but he certainly was made to suffer for defying politically correct orthodoxy. We're seeing more and more evide ...more
Sue Harshbarger
Jul 26, 2014 Sue Harshbarger rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, disturbing and frustrating. I'm going to ponder of this one for quite a while.
Kimberlee
Sep 26, 2014 Kimberlee rated it really liked it
My kind of book: the world view of a stone-age hunter-gatherer tribe in the Amazon.
Danny Yang
Apr 15, 2013 Danny Yang rated it liked it
"These accounts lead to the same conclusion: life int he tribal world is hard and often punctuated with extreme violence. The Yanomamo are probably a typical example of what life is like in a state of nature, in the absence of the institutions of the political state, what Hobbes characterized as the "Powere that keeps men in Awe." While it is also true that tribesmen spend many happy hours hunting, fishing, gathering, and telling wonderful stories and myths around the campfire, one of the most s ...more
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