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Stone Age Economics

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  198 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
Stone Age Economics is a classic study of anthropological economics, first published in 1974. As Marshall Sahlinsstated in the first edition, "It has been inspired by the possibility of 'anthropological economics, ' a perspective indebted rather to the nature of the primitive economies than to the categories of a bourgeois science." Ambitiously tackling the nature of econo ...more
Paperback, 348 pages
Published December 31st 1974 by Aldine Transaction (first published February 1st 1974)
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Jul 27, 2016 Jan-Maat added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the curious
I do not know what weird wanderings led me to this book. I was going to say that I'm not an anthropologist, but that seemed more than usually stupid, degree or no who doesn't study and learn about our fellows, who isn't taught something by them everyday?

So what's it about? The stone age appears to be pretty much over (apart from here and there) and so it's economics can hardly be relevant. But in a way the economics of the stone-age turn out to be oddly central because economic, social and polit
Kirk Sinclair
Sep 16, 2010 Kirk Sinclair rated it it was amazing
Stone Age Economics was a revolutionary work in cultural anthropology, debunking commonly held myths about "natural man" held at least since Thomas Hobbes and probably since the dawn of civilization. No informed anthropologists now question its basic thesis regarding the early economic expressions of our inherently social nature; some actually suggest it does not go far enough in viewing the life of nomadic cultures on their own terms. That may be so, but Stone Age Economics is to cultural anthr ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Kellyann rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Combines anthropology with economic theory, showing in passing how modern the supposed universals of economics actually are. Much of the book focuses on exploding the myth of the unhappy, overworked people of the Paleolithic. They were happy, took lots of naps, worked about 3-5 hours a day, had few (if any) wants or unmet needs. Spent much of their time dancing, eating, and chatting. Sounds like Eden . . .
Gary Bruff
I had wanted to read this book for a long time, and when the price dropped for the e-reader version I decided to buy it. I was in no way disappointed. Even though the book can be taken as a polemic against all economic and philosophical myths of human nature, Stone Age Economics has a charming grace to it. Having culled through a massive assortment of ethnographic texts, most of which dealing with the material conditions of 'primitive' peoples, Sahlins provides an astute empirical analysis on th ...more
Apr 28, 2012 Alex rated it really liked it
'…on evidence largely from these two groups [the Bushmen and the native Australians]. A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society. ' [one study showed ~26 hrs/wk, another ~35/wk, a 3rd 15 but excluding cooking and preparation time; dependents are part of the calculatio ...more
Sep 16, 2010 Julie rated it it was amazing
HI Kirk,

Yes, this was a transforming book for me. I think you nailed it when you say Sahlins really highlights the social basis of economic work in stone age societies. What we are really always doing first is being Social, he says. Economy is a by-product of a primary need then? But then he follows with what i think of as, 'And that as moderns we work so much more than we 'used to' in a sense despite our advances in technology.' THIS leaves a reader with the concomitant question, with more work
Aug 26, 2009 blakeR rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Starts out fascinating with a chapter/essay on primitive tribes as the "original affluent society." In this best section of the book, Sahlins reframes the entire notion of affluence, turning from our modern ability to obtain whatever material good we want to the primitive flip side: simply not wanting much, and thus easily having all of your desires fulfilled (in less than 3 hours a day, on average, taboot!). Talk about leisure.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book gets way too academic, talking
Mar 23, 2009 Ülle rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not only an interesting read about the economy and trade of different tribes all over the world, but also a great insight into the mind of ancient people. It is often easy to think that an average stone-age man or woman had to do a lot of hard work in order to obtain all the necessities but Sahlins' essays really show the ingenuity, logic and rationalism of these stone age people. Of all the many fine examples the author has described, my favourite has to be the trading system of the New Guinea ...more
Marjorie Elwood
If not the first, then one of the first books to suggest that hunter/gatherer societies enjoy more leisure time than other cultures, and are not subsisting hand-to-mouth. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in the terminology and equations about a third of the way through the book, but what I did read related directly to our mass consumption of goods these days: when you're a mobile society (hunter-gatherer), you can take few possessions with you and so you don't accumulate goods. The more settled ...more
Roger Lohmann
Nov 02, 2013 Roger Lohmann rated it it was amazing
A study of 'primitive' hunter gatherer societies outlining the case for them as the first affluent societies.

Sahlins wrote in the first (1972) edition: "It has been inspired by the possibility of 'anthropological economics,' a perspective indebted rather to the nature of the primitive economies than to the categories of a bourgeois science." The book has had a major impact on the economic thinking of anthropologists, influenced a variety of other social scientists (including me) and has had min
Jun 06, 2013 Kerie rated it did not like it
The first essay, about hunter gatherer societies feeding themselves was actually really good. The rest of the book got into boring discussions of primitive capital and were of no interest to me. Basically it's another scientist trying to use the language of death to talk about things alive and failing miserably. The cultural supremacy and scientific arrogance got to be too much to bear so I just skimmed the rest of the book to see if there was any other value in it and put it away.
Feb 04, 2014 Zacharygs rated it liked it
This was... well, fairly boring. Perhaps why I'm not an anthropologist. It's largely putting Polanyi's "Substantive" economics into work in a few key areas. At least the author is occasionally spicy with his writing. I've got such a long review for myself and I cared so little about this book that I'll just leave it here. 2.5 stars for interest; 3.5 for content.
Jul 17, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
The first half was interesting, but the second half turned into a bit of a slog. Nevertheless, it has information I hadn't found elsewhere. In addition, the author is very matter-of-fact about when he's got good data vs. when he's just making an educated supposition. Unlike most books written today, it's not a "sales-y" book, which I appreciate.
Andrew Tang
Jul 01, 2016 Andrew Tang rated it really liked it
Okay sahlins, 'primitive society' was good and you have a fairly straight forward idea about a theory of primitive exchange value, one that contrasts with bourgeois economics as you put it, but your writing is damn dense. Some of these paragraphs are so horrifically wordy, it felt like some class war in my head.
Jan 02, 2013 Micahlibris rated it it was amazing
This was an utterly life-changing and paradigm-shifting book for me--on par with Jared Diamond's Gun's Germs and Steel, but more rigorous and scholarly in its execution. For the light reader, I recommend the first two chapters. The work delves into more technical scientific detail in subsequent chapters. I'm not sure why Sahlin's work has not changed the world yet. It certainly changed me.
Mar 05, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it
Though the intervening years have dimmed some of the initial enthusiasm about this book, it remains a seminal work of economic anthropology. Sahlins writing is lucid and relatively easy for even the general reader to follow, but has great impact and persuasiveness.
Jan 02, 2014 Brandon rated it really liked it
Very technical presentation, but a foundational work of both economic anthropology, and critical anthropology. An altogether important text for economists, anarchists and cultural anthropologists alike.
Kirk Kittell
Apr 23, 2010 Kirk Kittell marked it as to-read
Recommended by Seth Godin in Linchpin .
Nicholas Packwood
Nicholas Packwood rated it it was amazing
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Mars Lux rated it it was amazing
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Jul 05, 2011
George Myers
George Myers rated it really liked it
Aug 10, 2012
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Paul Hebron rated it really liked it
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B rated it it was ok
Jun 20, 2009
ne rated it liked it
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“One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. In the Old Stone Age the fraction must have been much smaller. This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture.” 9 likes
“The world's most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization.” 3 likes
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