Harmless People
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Harmless People

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  232 ratings  ·  35 reviews
A study of primitive people which, for beauty of...style and concept, would be hard to match." -- The New York Times Book Review

In the 1950s Elizabeth Marshall Thomas became one of the first Westerners to live with the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Botswana and South-West Africa. Her account of these nomadic hunter-gatherers, whose way of life had remained unchanged fo...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published June 15th 1959)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
A very accessible ethnography for those of us with no background in the field. In the 1950s, Elizabeth spent long periods of time living with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and developed a deep love for them, and they for her. She presents them here as real people, and she made me care about them as individuals rather than just subjects of study.
Max Carmichael
Anecdotal and empathic and likely more reliable, and certainly more readable, than most formal ethnography, this wonderful memoir builds modestly, non-judgmentally, and gradually to its lyrical, dreamlike final scene, a description of an all-night dance.

One of the great benefits of a story like this is that it reveals the continuum connecting us with our other animal partners. Not that the Bushmen are more like animals than us civilized people, but that we're all animals together in this ecosyst...more
Jane
An engrossing and beautifully written small book about the Bushmen (now called the San people) of the Kalahari Dessert and other areas. Mrs. Thomas has a poet's soul, and her portrayl of these gentle souls in their native soil moved me. The book was first written around 1955 and has been updated to illustrate how the Bushmen fare today.
Valerie
Jan 19, 2009 Valerie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Debbie
Recommended to Valerie by: circumstance
As well as being an amazing folklorist/fantasy writer, Thomas's book on the San is one of the best I've ever read about the Kalahari and its life and people. I think I bought this one in South Africa or Zimbabwe. When I flipped through it I found a postcard I'd started to Debbie and never finished.
Lisa Kilgore
Excellent autobiographical account of the author's time spent living with the hunter/gatherer tribe of the African desert, the people who were featured in the movie "The God's Must be Crazy" (which by the way, according to the author, was a very poor portrayal of these people).

This book held me in thrall because in no way, by no stretch of my imagination, could I ever have imagined the lifestyle these people have. It is barren, without houses or washing machines or e-readers or teapots...or shoe...more
Adam
This one starts off slowly, but really does a good job of painting a realistic picture a) of how the Bushmen of the Kalahari live and b) of how European and American people viewed them at the time of the Author's experience, circa 1958.

While she's obviously very forward-thinking for her time, there is a hint of patronism in the text, the same kind of patronism a lot of rich liberals get when discussing those poor, uneducated people. Like, "if only they knew how, they'd be more like us."

Anyway,...more
Preston
Nonfiction. Excellent treatise on the bushmen of the Kalahari written in the 1950s. Where they are and how they are now in 2013 i do not know, but i am certain their lives have changed since the book was written. Maybe some good, some bad now. Then: Yaws. Women leaned over while standing to piss while men squatted. It was their law. Seeing the universe differently from this oppressive dominant culture, part of which you are reading this from, is neither wrong nor incorrect. They can survive and...more
Brett
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susan
Written by an American woman who lived for several years among the Bushmen of southern Africa in the 1950s, this is an extremely fascinating look into a hunter/gatherer culture that existed for thousands of years but has since been destroyed by the encroaching world around them. I found myself charmed as I got to know these people through Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' eyes. The last chapter, written in 1987, is hard to read as it becomes clear that their way of life has disappeared forever. But my...more
Pancha
This was written in 1959, and I don't know if I should blame the era or anthropology for the condescending tone the author often takes on. She's constantly describing the Bushmen in terms of animals, especially the women. She also keeps reassuring the reader that she believes the Bushmen when they tell her something, rather than just relating what the Bushmen said. Since she was there living with them, I don't take issue when she talks about her experiences and opinions, as long as they are rese...more
Alex Tank
beautiful narrative account of Bushmen groups in the Kalahari. Every scene is a mix of vivid and moving descriptions of the harsh environment and the both group and individual relationships to the environment. you can feel the pounding sun, the endless dust, and the starvation and thirst on every page. my favorite scenes described Bushman cultural technology, like poisoned arrows, multi day tracking expeditions, honey gathering, animal butchering, vine/tuber hunting. also interesting are the pra...more
Rebecca
I initially had to read this for an Anthropology class, but I read it again for pleasure a few years later. Still think it's great! It details the lives and beliefs of different Bushman tribes and I found it fascinating. I appreciate the account being given in the first person point of view (much more interesting than if it were a simple book of facts). Read if you love learning about different cultures and how these amazing people are able to keep alive with so little!
Laura
Read this for my anthropology class and actually really enjoyed it. I can't believe in the 1950's there were people that lived in remote areas not knowing about America. Bushmen are people of South Africa moving from place to place in the vast Kalahari desert. They move around so much because of scarce resources. They don't own much, live in scherms, use every part of their kill, and have radical ideas about God, but in their world - it all makes sense.
Kendell
In the 1950's, the author spent time among the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert and documents their way of life. It reminds me of many native people who know the seasons and climates, the edible plants, how to utilize every part of the animals around them, and how to survive in harsh environments. The epilogue was a sad reminder of the loss of culture, knowledge and community when isolated people are exposed to western culture and materialism.
Joe Loyd
Thomas recounts her experiences among Bushmen, largely before their culture was contaminated by Western materials and ways. Her descriptions of the Kalahari and its people are picturesque and refreshing. She compares the Bushmen culture with possible cultures of our ancient ancestors, who also lived in Africa 100,000 years ago. This book is a classic for both anthropology and literature.
Kate
I've seen this book cited as an example of a society where there is no violence... having read the book, I want to clear up one thing: the title, "The Harmless People," comes not from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's evaluation of Bushman culture. Instead, it is the English translation for what the Bushman call themselves: I believe this is a very important distinction to make.
BreAnna Long
This is a very interesting look at a group of people who live so simple, yet complex lives. I enjoyed this comprehensive introduction to such a fascinating culture. Thomas' writing style is very easy to read; I love the way she is able to draw the reader into these people's lives.
VoNique
If you like anthropology you'll likely enjoy this book. I had to read it for a class, so that always sucks the fun out of things. It was good for what it was. It was pretty interesting to learn about a civilization completely different than my own.
Valerie
If you read some thought-provoking fiction, read The Harmless people. It's an easy read about the bushmen of Africa. They're culture is different than ours; I think it creates a good opportunity to look at things we think are high priority.
Alisa
Yeah, this is not a book I would pick up on my own. I read it and wrote three papers with it in my Anthropology class. It really is a diary of visiting the Bushmen, but gives a lot of insight into how a vastly different culture operates.
Ryceejo
For a book I had to read for school, this was pretty interesting. Some parts were very detailed/graphic that it was hard to read, but this book wasn't about enjoyment but a true narrative of real people living in Southwest Africa.
Alicia Penney harnum
One of my top 10 favorite books of all time out of thousands that I have read. I appreciate the simplicity without diminishing the complexity of these people and their lifestyle. Beautifully crafted study and writing.
Margaret
Thomas's description of her family's life with the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalihari desert and their lifeways is an awesome ethnography as well as a well-written work for anyone to read.
Elsie
Very interesting learning about their life from someone who spent enormous time with them. So sad to hear how things changed when they were forced to adapt another lifestyle :(
Larrirosser
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has an eye for observation, and a talent for drawing you into the world she is observing. Intereting portrayal of a dying way of life.
Missy Zell
Author’s personal account of her learning experiences while staying with the Bushmen people in the Kalahari Desert. Good to learn about this culture.
David
A warm and even-handed account of the author's experiences among the fascinating Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Africa.
Leah
Published in 1989 but still a really good read - if you'd one anthropologist family's take on the Bushmen during that time.
Emily
Wonderful book. The only one of my text books I wanted and actually kept. Loved it.
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Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is the author of The Harmless People, a non fiction work about the Kung Bushmen of southwestern Africa, and of Reindeer Moon, a novel about the paleolithic hunter gatherers of Siberia, both of which were tremendous international successes. She lives in New Hampshire.
More about Elizabeth Marshall Thomas...
The Hidden Life Of Dogs Reindeer Moon (Reindeer Moon, #1) The Tribe of Tiger The Social Lives of Dogs The Old Way: A Story of the First People

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