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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  1,853 ratings  ·  322 reviews
The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he'd bee
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by William Morrow
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From one island to another; ten thousand miles away, but tens of thousands of years apart...'Safe Return Doubtful'

I had a mental image at the start of Hoffman's novel: the privileged Rockefeller, a poster boy for REI, standing ankle deep in the swamp mud, surrounded by his equipment bearing entourage; pockets bulging with credit cards and currency, a million dollar smile, and those ubiquitous thick framed black glasses. Gazing back at him, the stone age Asmat people, smeared with ash and mud, bo
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The World's Literature, a group in Goodreads, is reading books from Southeast Asia and Oceania in 2015. This book isn't on the official list but after reading Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak, I didn't want that to be my only experience with New Guinea. I made a long list of potential reads and this book seemed to be the most recent.

I expected a sensationalized account of Michael Rockefeller, who died on a trip back to New Guinea in 1961. Instead I found a
Grace Tjan
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. Don't mess with cannibals, even supposedly reformed ones, especially if they have a particularly bloody creation myth that they insist on reenacting in real life.

“DESOIPITSJ WAS OLDER and unable to hunt, so Biwiripitsj had to do all the work. One day the boy brought home a wild pig. He cut off the head and thrust a cassowary bone dagger into its throat, pinning the head to the floor. “Bah, a pig’s head is but a pig’s head,” said Desoipit
Annie Witt
"Savage Harvest" is about much more than Michael Rockerfeller's disappearance in 1961. This book is brilliant and contains elements of exploration, self-analyzing, anthropology, and politics.

From the beginning I could not put the book down. The book begins with a graphic account of a man being killed and ritually eaten by other men captivates the reader to know more. I was drawn into wanting to know more about the Asmat and how they live in a world profoundly different from the one occupied by a
The redeeming parts of this book were too few and far between to warrant more than two stars. And two is generous, believe me.

I'm upset for the poor Rockefeller family (bet that's the only time you'll hear that). Just because they're huge doesn't mean their personal sorrows can be made public in such a sensational way, for the profit of another. They indicated they wanted nothing to do with this project and that they preferred to focus on the official cause of disappearance and death of Michael
Mikey B.
This is definitely an interesting story of Michael Rockefeller, son of the very wealthy Nelson Rockefeller.

It tells how Michael, like his father, became interested in primitive art. But he wanted to go one step further – to go to the source. In this case the source was New Guinea – at that time (1961) a Dutch colony, but it was soon to become part of Indonesia. The complexity of this territorial transfer, and how it was to impact the search for Michael Rockefeller, is well explained in the book
Jun 18, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in primitive art or anthropology
The official pronouncement was: Missing. Presumed drowned.

That's how the general public might remember Michael Rockefeller, who vanished off the coast of Dutch New Guinea on November 19, 1961. Why should we care about an event that happened over 50 years ago? There's a sensational element, of course. Michael was the son of Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York. There was also a disturbing element, that there were still places in the latter half of the 20th century that could swallow up a
Michael Rockefeller, 23 years old and a recent Harvard grad was New York royalty in 1961. Michael's great grandfather John D. Rockefeller was at one time the richest man in the US and his grandson, Michael's father Nelson, was Governor of New York. It was initially reported that Michael had drowned off the coast of New Guinea while attempting to source primitive art for his families' museum in Manhattan. Rumor had it that Michael actually made it to shore only to be murdered and eaten by the Azm ...more
I just plowed through this book. It was an incredible page turner. I learned a lot about the history of New Guinea, an area that I knew nearly nothing about. Four stars because I was left with more questions than answers. What happened to the ladies? Carl Hoffman wrote nearly nothing about the women in the Asmat tribe, while giving us an incredibly detailed picture of the life of the men and their incredible spiritual world. I wish there were more pictures. Apparently Michael Rockefeller took ma ...more
Jan C
What happened to Michael Rockefeller and why? A big story in 1961 was the disappearance of Nelson Rockefeller's son, Michael. After college, he wanted to do something on his own to make his father proud. Nelson had recently opened a Primitive Art Museum (from the book it sounds as though it has been absorbed into the Museum of Modern Art) and Michael had been placed on the Board. He heads off to New Guinea (not directly, the book goes into detail) and he is returning to a particularly savage are ...more
Chris Witkowski
I was drawn to this book, the author's attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the son of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York State, because of the close connection the events recounted in the book had to my family. It was at my youngest brother's Christening party, on November 19, 1961, that my father, who was press secretary to Rockefeller, received a phone call summoning him to Rocky's side, to begin a journey to Papua, New Guinea, to searc ...more
I was in Junior High when the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller on an expedition for primitive art in New Guinea splashed all over the national media. One night at dinner my dad, who had been stationed there during World War II said, "I bet the headhunters ate him." We all laughed & my mom swatted him with a dish cloth because it was so ridiculous. Such things did not happen in 1961. However, that apparently is exactly what did happen as Carl Hoffman describes in detail in this extraordin ...more
Terri Durling
I was intrigued by the mystery of Michael Rockefeller's (son of Nelson Rockefeller) disappearance while searching for primitive art in New Guinea in 1961. Solving a mystery is always good fodder but I was disappointed in Carl Hoffman's attempt to get to the bottom of the decades old mystery. He certainly tried hard and put himself in danger in his quest but, for me, the book did not deliver. It goes into great detail about the natives of Asmat and the history of cannibals, headhunters and coloni ...more
Fascinating and yet I couldn't wait to finish this. I initially thought I could read this during my lunch hours at work. After the first few pages I realized I needed to read the book in it's entirety. Carl Hoffman's research is detailed - almost too much so for me. I have read many mysteries and thrillers with all their gore but real life cannibalism - that's too frightening and yet it happened and maybe still happens. Mr. Hoffman's vivid portrayal of the Asmat people and their life is haunting ...more
The story is amazing, the telling of it is not. I felt as if Hoffman just could not decide on a thesis: is this about Asmat culture? Primitive art? Hoffman's travelogue? Michael Rockefeller's death? Colonial rule? There is a little bit about all these things and with the exception of presenting a compelling case to explain Rockefeller's disappearance in 1961 and the exposition of his feelings about "the primitive" (i.e. indigenous peoples) and how off-putting it is to swim in a river with poop f ...more
Superb detail. Ethnography? More a fantastic and clearly noted progression to "try" and I say "try" in parentheses purposely, to seat the reader in a Asmat jeu worldview of reality. For any human with electricity or farmed food, that probably is not possible. Although it doesn't hold the level of studied definition parley as a "Blackberry Winter" or definitions of more current Anthropology, it does start to bridge the gap between hunter-gatherer awareness and human post-farming /domesticated ani ...more
John Tice
I have been fascinated by Michael Rockefeller's disappearance for years. I visited Union Church of Pocantico Hills in 2012 to see the Chagall and Matisse windows, not realizing beforehand that one window dedicated to Michael. When the guide explained that Michael had drowned in a boating accident in the South Pacific I raised an eyebrow and she acknowledged speculation that he may have swam to shore and been killed by hostile natives. It's understandable, I suppose, that the family prefers a com ...more
A review in the Chicago Tribune, states that “Hoffman offers an objective but always scintillating investigation into a people and their customs, but he never sensationalizes. Instead, he offers a cultural perspective, however shocking, that attempts to explain how and why Rockefeller died and what prodded the Asmat to kill ‘out of passion and love, love for what they had lost and were losing … their culture and traditions, headhunting — as modernity and Christianity closed in from every directi ...more
It was late at night when an Asmat man came to our shelter. He carried a sack and proudly opened it to show us his greatest treasure; a human enemy skull which he claimed to have inherited it from his father. It was in 1996, exactly 15 years to the day since Michael Rockefeller disappeared in the same area which added to the creepy atmosphere.
Michael was in the Asmat region to collect wood carvings for the Museum of Primitive Art, which his father, Nelson Rockefeller had opened in New York. Th
This book was fantastic. It takes a hard look at the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the cover up, and the journey that Carl Hoffman took in uncovering long buried facts.

Throughout the tale, Rockefeller's white face provokes and incites the tribal factions of Papua New Guinea. There's no getting around it and at times his life is in real danger. One wonders, however, how he could come to some of the decisions he made. From a life of privliege to a life lived in the wild, he seems to be se
I wanted to like this book. I really did. The book seemed interesting on first glance: Searching for Michael Rockefeller, grandson of famous Rockefeller, who was lost in New Guinea. However, the book read much more like a thesis and/or dissertation than actual novel. The author was very heavy handed in his assumptions and conclusions of how Michael met his end. After reading the book and Hoffman's hypotheses, I am not convinced that Michael did not drown (which would favor the Rockefeller's conc ...more
The southwest area of New Guinea, tribal area of the Asmat people, is one of the most primitive places on earth. People there live in thatched huts surrounded by rivers and dense jungle. They are only a couple of generations removed from their traditional practices of head hunting and cannibalism. In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, son of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared there while on a trip to collect primitive works of art. They said he was lost at sea. That is questionable. The a ...more
This book was absolutely riveting and fascinating to read. I won this as a goodreads giveaway and I immediately tore into it to learn more. I am an Anthropology student currently and this was right up my alley.

The book reads like an ethnography memoir if that makes any sense. Most ethnographers have a tendency to drone on and you can sometimes get lost in the verbiage or specifics but Mr.Hoffman does an excellent job at clarifying the terms used in his book. Sometimes I got a little confused wi
I first heard of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance in the excellent book The Lost City of Z. I again heard in his name in passing when reading the The Man in the Rockefeller Suit about a con man who operated under the ruse that he was related to the family. My interest was really piqued when I picked this book up ready to learn more about the mysterious disappearance of Michael but alas it was a snooze fest. It had all of the makings of a great adventure story, cannibalism, a primitive civiliz ...more
Apr 17, 2014 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Educated adults
Recommended to David by: Book review
This past year marked a strange departure in my reading. Certainly "Savage Harvest" fits like the piece of a puzzle into that change. The book took me on a journey into not only the minds of Michael Rockefeller and Carl Hoffman, but also my own. Our shared cosmology is filled with the same feelings, the need for love, finding our manhood, giving and getting respect as well as some of the answers to our personal questions about life and death, the lack or love of a God and the overwhelming need f ...more
I won this book from Goodreads. This is not a book I would normally choose to read. Mostly because it's non fiction, but also because it's not a story that on its face seemed particularly compelling. But I entered the giveaway on a last minute whim, won the book and was happily surprised. The first three quarters were interesting -- providing historical background to a part of the world I know very little about. But the last quarter was particularly interesting and compelling as it got into the ...more
I've been listening to a lot of nonfiction while commuting in 2014. I find that nonfiction isn't distracting while driving. Surprisingly, I have gotten a lot of joy out of listening to audiobooks which I didn't expect.

Disappointing, however, I couldn't get engaged in Savage Harvest till the last of the CD's. Then the cultural story and Michael Rockefeller all came together.

Here are some exceptional nonfiction I have listened to this year that I would highly recommend:

5 Days at Memorial
A House i
This should have been a great book. It was not. It was dull, dry, began with a bang that turned out to be largely unsubstantiated hokum. So disappointed. Glad it was a library book.
Jul 05, 2014 Laura marked it as unfinished
Giving up on this one... I was put off when the author took pains to inform his readers that the Asmat people, while living in a less technologically complex way, are every bit as cognitively and physically advanced and adept as we are. (Surely this is obvious?) I was even more put off when he referred to someone who was half Dutch/half Indonesian as a "colonial mutt." In addition, the writing was rather more sensationalistic than any actual new evidence would warrant. Quite a lot seemed to be s ...more
3 1/2 stars. Generally well-written and intriguing. But somehow I just never got that engaged in this book, I'm not sure why. It was hard to keep track of all the names of the Dutch priests and officials and the natives. It felt a bit repetitive at times. None of the "characters" in the book, including Michael Rockefeller himself, ever captured much of my interest. The parts I liked best were the descriptions of the native people, because I find other cultures fascinating, especially ones so dif ...more
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Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via It's Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and wa ...more
More about Carl Hoffman...
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