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The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia
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The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  253 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Since the last Ice Age, the reindeer's extraordinary adaptation to cold has sustained human life over vast tracts of the earth's surface, providing meat, fur, and transport. Images carved into rocks and tattooed on the skin of mummies hint at ancient ideas about the reindeer's magical ability to carry the human soul on flights to the sun. These images pose one of the great ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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This is a sensitively written book by someone who has spent many summers and winters getting to know the Eveny people in Siberia. It is a thoroughly engrossing read and it the best non-fiction book that I have read in a long time. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The author captures the transition of the Eveny people of Siberia as they move from life in the taiga (tundra) to a largely settled life in villages. Some might be as crass to say that they were moving from the wilderness to civilisa
This is another classic example of how the work of an anthropologist could contribute to preserving the culture being studied. This book is a result of knowledge accumulated throughout years of fieldwork, participating in the life of the people, called the Eveny in Northern Russia, whose life and culture have for generations depended on the domesticated reindeer and hunting animal. They were the people of the land on the edge of modern civilization, but their daily life has also been, for better ...more
Steve E.
This is one of the best non-technical ethnographies I've read, and maybe one of the best overall (and I've read quite a few!). Highly recommended even if you're not interested in anthropology - Vitebsky's portraits of native people in Siberia are sympathetic, honest, un-romantic, and incredibly powerful.
Fascinating information about a rapidly declining culture.
Peter Ellwood
Wonderful and important piece of writing. Wonderful, because of its evocative use of prose; and important, because he conjures up a whiff of a way of life, a relationship between humanity and the world we live in: that has already largely disappeared.

There are lots of books that are well written, and I shan't dwell on that beyond observing that I wish I could write as well as Vitebsky does. I'm amused at the odd review elsewhere in this web site, chastising him for not writing the kind of erudi
I like that the author, although an anthrologist, is open about his romantic view of the lives he is watching. At the end when his wife and children come with him, it's nice to see her view as a psychologist, and the way his daughter sees animals as pets, not working animals. Some cultural clarity.

This is a really sad book in a lot of ways because of the heavy USSR oppression these people have to live their lives around. I had to skip some of those parts, as it just put a grey shadow across thes
Piers Vitebsky writes beautifully. His love for a people he describes in this ethnography in no way interferes with the narrative. What an amazing people, whose way of life is at the extreme edge of conditions that allow for survival. They still a semi-nomadic life that goes back millennia, to a time before our species became aliens on this planet. The Reindeer People still follow the annual migration with their domestic herds. They have also survived a century of Russian/Soviet, as the title of ...more
Brittany Kubes
Above all, I cannot get over the weather in the Siberian taiga: 20 hours of darkness in winters, “warm” weather being -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and saliva solidifying before hitting the ground. The studied inhabitants of this region, the Eveny people, often sing songs on themes of mondji, or the quality of being self-reliant, able to survive in extreme situations, and never giving up. It was really inspiring to get insight on a people that have so few possessions and so few societal concerns, but ...more
Fantastic book. I saw this book by chance and am so glad I was able to read it. It contains a thorough discussion of how reindeer are farmed with interesting details on how the ecology of a wide ranging ungulate is integrated into the operations of ranching/harvesting/managing nearly wild animals while retaining the essential evolutionary traits of a finely adapted species. On top of that, you get a fascinating description of an ancient culture with details on how they relate to nature and spiri ...more
Paul Heikkila
That rarity. An anthropology book that can be recommended to the general public. Fascinating and readable account of life among the Eveny reindeer herders of northeast Siberia under and after Soviet control. Organized on state farms, Eveny men follow their herds through the coldest regions on earth, providing reindeer meat airlifted to miners and oil and gas workers across the mountains. Resettled in villages, the men work the herds on shifts, paid by the state. Women remain in villages, childre ...more
Lee Broderick
This book isn't what I expected it to be. The English language ethnographic literature on Altaic people remains sparse, so when I saw a 500 page book by an anthropologist, presenting primary data, I was relatively excited. The prospect of fresh insights into herding practices and cosmologies to compare to my own research was too good an opportunity to pass up.

What the book actually focuses on though, is the author's very personal impressions of life in Siberia - throughout, the book is written i
An anthropologist's personal account of his time living with and studying the indigenous Eveny people of northeastern Siberia whose lives and livelihoods are interdependent with the wild reindeer herds they live among. Vitebsky's stays began in the mid-to-late 1980's--he was the first Westerner to live among them since the 1930's. Because of that, he was in a unique position to see both the effect that Soviet collectivization had on the traditional practices of the nomadic Eveny--which broke up ...more
I read this book as a sort of escape from my own ethnographic fieldwork. It is fantastic, in it's readability. Vitebsky holds you as reader, so you can relax into the stories, and the textures of the lives he describes. He delivers neither too much ethnographic detail to make the book formidable for a layperson reader, nor too little depth for those of us with anthropological training. At the same time, the reader comes to learn about gut-wrenching heartache of the community he describes, as wel ...more
Tyler Anderson
I asked for this book for Christmas of 2007, having seen it on Amazon or maybe in a store and being curious. I'm not certain what I expected, but this wasn't exactly it. I think I was maybe looking for more about cosmology and religion in Arctic societies.

What I got was a very personal book about the transition from Soviet industrialization of an indigenous people's way of life, back a certain distance now toward older ways, as seen and understood by an anthropologist. Not what I was expecting,
Dace Medne
Non complicated read that gives good insight of what happened to native people of North East Siberia during Soviet times and after. Anthropologist travels with groups of herders over couple of years. Read it twice!
Although serious anthropological work; I found this a delight to read and a wonderful look at a native reindeer-based culture through 25 years of dynamic change at the end of the Soviet Union and beginning of Post-Soviet self-sufficiency in a remote area. Filled with heart and personal experience, the author even took up the invitation to make a trip bringing along his psychologist wife, 10 yr old daughter and 19 year old son for a summer migration; and able to include even more knowledge and in ...more
"The Eveny are a footprint in the snow, & when the snow melts they will disappear." (Tolya, p.432)Wonderful bk for armchair anthropologists. We learn, from a most accomplished authority who lived with these indigenous peoples of Siberia, the geopolitical, sociological & economic factors that led to the upheaval in their family structure, culture, and religion (shamanism) as well as to their centuries-old practices of reindeer migration & herding. This is not a quick read, but rather ...more
Really interesting look at the lives of native reindeer herders in Siberia. There is a good history of the fall of the soviet block and how that effected the reindeer herder villages. There are a lot of depressing aspects to life in the north such as alcohol abuse, suicides, and early deaths - but the author does a great job of following the success stories and preserving at least a bit of the history of these people. Definitely worth reading if you are as into reindeer/caribou as I am!
Barrington Library
Very engaging, terrific, vivid portrayal of reindeer people of Siberia.
I have to admit, I have given up on finishing this book. It is a fascinating picture of life in rural Siberia & the changes that have taken place over the last two decades. It is well and thoroughly written with the exception of a too-long introductory chapter covering the geopolitical background of the region. I'm not sure why I can't seem to latch onto this - perhaps the lack of a linking narrative, or character lines through the chapters. I may come back to it later, but two months in and ...more
Simply fascinating. No idea that this type of culture existed at all, let alone during modern times. The author does a fantastic job of combining scholarly material with personal narrative to create a very readable book about the colorful characters of the taiga and their evolution. To think that in the 21st century there lives a group of people who are completely reliant on an a single animal for survival is a very romantic idea...especially when this group lives in one of the most remote and u ...more
Mar 15, 2008 Kari rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an anthropologist-written tale about the Siberian native people who are still living a sort of constrained version of the traditional lifestyle, nomadic and intertwined with the reindeer.

This book will be beautifully comforting and wonderful like taking a holiday into a distant way of living. And it might also break your heart because, well, the way that the Australians and Americans have treated their native people... this is its own story, but still sadly similar to ours.
A remarkable insight into the life and culture of the Eveny, Vitebsky is not only a scholar but also a gifted writer, who is able to vividly bring to life the people, the land and animals he met during various trips to the Russian Far East. Not only does he write eminently on the Eveny, he also describes in detail the anthropological history of human interaction with reindeer. Overall, a fascinating book which is highly recommended.
Emma-Jayne Saanen
I found this book to be both heart-breaking and uplifting. Piers really seemed to want to be a part of the communities he resided in, and his descriptions of the problems facing the Eveny both during and after the Soviet era showcase the best and worst of humanity.

Some books that study humans treat them as artefacts of the past, but not this one. If you are interested in real, living people this is a wonderful read.
This is interesting because I knew nothing of the people of Siberia that follow the reindeer. I did not even know that the Soviets had reindeer farms or that reindeer was cultivated for its' meat, fur and being a pack animal. This book is written in diary form by an anthropologist. It jumps around a bit and and it is a lot of detail. A lot of detail. Not an entertaining read but I am glad that I read it.
A fascinating read. The setting, traditional people, and the traditional culture and legends could be the making of a fantasy novel. A lot of the themes in this book parallel the themes in Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." It is a look at an ancient way of life and the way outside forces are destroying it and the way choices made by the society are destroying it from within.
May 31, 2008 Lynne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in ancient cultures
Recommended to Lynne by: Kiriyama Prize
An anthropologist lives with the Eveny, the people of Northern most Soviet Union, Siberia. They have lived with and off the reindeer for centuries, but must now conform to the Communist Party's idea of organization and management of resources. It is the story of survival, adaptation, and cultural devastation...reminding me of what happened to the Native Americans on this continent.
I grabbed the book because I thought it might be interesting to learn about people living lifestyles that are so different from modern life. The lifestyle of the Eveny people of Siberia and the reindeer they herd is certainly that. Unfortunately, it also pretty boring and so is the book.

Unless you are an anthropologist, I would move to something else.
A really interesting look at a world I knew nothing about: Siberian reindeer herders. I learned a lot about Soviet destruction of the traditional culture and quite a bit about reindeer. Toward the end I skipped around...too much detail on the Soviet collective farming system and I already had the gist.
i can never have another drink without giving the first jigger to the land in honour. this book is personal because there is no other way live with nature in such a clime dependent on other species and requiring the knowledge and wisdom of your elders to survive.
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Piers Vitebsky is an anthropologist and is the Head of Social Science at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, England.
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