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Marvin Harris
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Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches: The Riddles Of Culture

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  1,623 ratings  ·  131 reviews
This book challenges those who argue that we can change the world by changing the way people think. Harris shows that no matter how bizarre a people's behavior may seem, it always stems from concrete social and economic conditions.
Published (first published December 1st 1974)
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
There are several reasons why I wasn't going to review this book. One, I am not an Anthropologist. I took some anthropology courses in college, but contrary to the opinions of some of the undeservedly arrogant, Newsies-hatted forever-virgin dudes in my Philosophy I course, that doesn't make me an expert or automatically mean anyone cares what I have to say (loudly, and with so much "ergo", so much "thusly") on the subject. Two, despite the fact that this book is slim, it is pretty much huge-mong ...more
Why do Jews and Muslims refuse to eat pork? Why were thousands of witches burned at the stake during late medieval Europe? These and other riddles are explored by famous anthropologist Marvin Harris, and his conclusions are simple: people act within social and ecological contexts that make their actions meaningful. Put another way: cultural ideas and practices that seem strange to us may actually be vital and necessary to the people of those cultures.

Harris is especially good at explaining how s
Marvin Harris intends to apply scientific theory to some of the great cultural riddles of the world. Why do Hindus love cows? Why do Jews hate pigs? Unfortunately, like an evolutionary biologist trying to explain why humans have pinky toes, he comes across as making up just-so stories. The theories are plausible, but that doesn't make them accurate. The truth in a just-so story is always in what it tells us about the storyteller. In this case, he's a 1970s academic.

One more thing: Since I'm not
May 23, 2011 ryeginald rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone as fascinated with human behavior as I am
Unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most though-provoking and fascinating cultural studies I've ever read. Everyone should have a few horizon-wideners on their book list -- this should be one of them.
Ivonne Rovira
Today, while lamenting the sidelining of fiction in favor of informational texts to the exclusion of just about anything else in English classes with a friend, I mentioned that no one had ever learned to love to read by reading a textbook. However, I had to immediately correct myself by adding "except for Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches and The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo's Telescope Changed the Truth."

I read Marvin Harris' scintillating book in 1978. Although an accessible paperback desi
This book is required reading for my Political Science 101 class, and for once a professor has managed to select an interesting book.
This is an interesting look at some of the cultural riddles that tend to mystify Westerners - like Cow Love in India, Pig Hate in the Middle East, Cargo Cults, etc. Harris explains how these seemingly ridiculous (to us) behaviors are actually perfectly sensible and successful adaption strategies. A short and pleasant read, well researched and written. I highly rec
David Gross
Cows are inefficiently raised and devoured in the United States, while in India, people would rather go hungry than eat cow flesh. In the Jewish and Moslem tradition, pigs are unclean and cannot be consumed; while in others, gargantuan pig feasts are more holy than the Thanksgiving turkey. Is this just part of the inexplicable side of human nature, or are there understandable reasons for these cultural curiosities? Harris shows that these bizarre displays of cultural variety play an important an ...more
The Thousander Club
One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone. He said:

"Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on
I picked this up again last week and enjoyed it greatly. Harris does great job of describing the material bases for numerous cultural phenomena, beginning with the sacred cows of Hinduism, and moving on through the roots of the worship and hatred of pigs, messianic military leadership and Christianity, to witchcraft, anti-witch pogroms, and the counter-culture. Something I really enjoyed about Harris' voice in this book is the sense of barely contained anger that imbues it.

The main thing Harris
John David
Civilizations, even the most advanced among them, are invariably strewn with mythologies, folklore, and recherche taboo. While the contemporary United States would itself provide enough material for a multi-volume study of this kind, Marvin Harris focuses mostly on pre-scientific and pre-literate peoples to answer questions like: Why do Hindus not eat cows, while Jews avoid pork instead? How do you explain the concept of the Messiah? Why was the belief in witches in medieval Europe so prevalent, ...more
Un libro ameno, a ratos muy interesante (para mi sobre todo en los primeros capítulos) en su propósito de divulgación antropológica. De ellos se desprende que peculiaridades culturales de distintos grupos humanos que a nuestros ojos 'occidentales' les pueden resultar chocantes provienen de adaptaciones razonables al entorno y no a una arbitrariedad inescrutable.
Lo que no me queda claro es si el autor atribuye estas adaptaciones a una o varias inteligencias individuales o a alguna especie de 'int
A very fascinating read. I really like the author's perspective that cultural behavior can be explained by real and concrete things. Like the history geek that I am, I found myself wanting to read further about the history of some of the topics. Considering current world events, I also found the sections about the middle east to be quite enlightening. It's an area of ancient world history I have previously not had much interest in.
What an entertaining book. While I don't agree with all of Marvin Harris' conclusions, I can say that the scientific way that he approaches problems typically viewed only in a just-so light was both informative and fascinating. His precise evaluation of each question was both thorough and scientific and offers much to anyone fascinated in anthropological (or even political) theory.

While the author is very much the product of the time in which the book was written (the 1970's) the methods that ma
Sin duda, un libro que cumple su objetivo: exponer las teorías de su autor de manera argumentada y entendible.

Totalmente recomendable para cualquiera que disfrute de una lectura desenfadada y gratificante, esta obra es un ensayo antropológico que -ni más ni menos- cumple su fución didáctica sin dejar de lado una prosa que mueve al lector a abrirse a la información dada por el escritor.

Este no es otro ensayo rimbombante e intelectualoide, sino una lección de antropología y objetividad expuesta d
Valeria Lozano
El primer libro de antropología que leo y me ha encantado, sin duda no será el último, ni tampoco el último libro que lea de este autor, pues me ha parecido muy ameno y muy bien escrito.

Desafortunadamente no soy ninguna experta del tema, por lo que no puedo saber si lo que está diciendo el autor es un disparate, pero me ha parecido bastante convincente, sobre todo la explicación de por qué el hinduismo prohíbe comer vacas. Siempre he pensado que la religión era una herramienta eficaz para contro
Soobie's confused
Surprisingly easy to read and to understand. Harris has a way to show clearly the process he's made in his head and make the reader understand what's going on.

I had previously read Cultural Anthropology by the same author. It was part of an anthropology course during my three-month-period in Japan and it made me curious about other books by the same author.

I chose this one because of the title, which is very funny and catchy. And I wonder why it's never been translated into Italian. I would have
A fascinating and engaging attempt to expose the economic, agricultural, psychological, and political underpinnings of various cultures' confusing or controversial traditions and beliefs. Harris carries his themes and theories through an interesting array of anthropological quandaries. What factors, beyond the conventional explanations, are really behind the Hindu reverence for cows, the Maring tribe's massive pre-war pig sacrifices, the horrifically violent and misogynistic Yanomamo tribe, the ...more
Amanda Schmeltzer
Harris is an "Anthropologist" and uses judgmental words such as bizarre and maniacal in the same sentence. My problem with the book is not the inferences made about certain practices, but the way in which they are discussed. It saddens me to see someone supposedly dedicated to the study of culture discuss in such a negative manner.
Joseph F.
A classic of anthropology. The author takes seemingly impenetrable beliefs and practices such as cow worship in India and abhorrence for pigs in the bible, and gives practical, prosaic reasons for such beliefs. The book is controversial, but that is part of the fun.
The only thing I know something about before reading this book is the European witchcraft craze.
I'm not really convinced that the authorities perpetrated the belief as a red herring in order to convince the general public that they ar
I read this for a class in Religious studies. This book isn't a fun read but it gives you insight into why certain traditions and beliefs have evolved. An eye-opener!
Ilginç bir bakış açısı belki oryantalist denebilir -ben pek anlamıyorum bu şeylerden oryantalist filan- ama savaşlar kısmına kadar heyecanla okudum. antropoloji gerçekten ilginç bir dal ve sanırım antropologlar psikologlar gibi bakın biz de bilim yapıyoruz biz de deme gayretinde. Halihazırda bilimsel bilgi iktidarda olduğundan bu uğraş normal karşılanabilir. Buraları geçelim. Savaşlar kısmı çok sıkıcıydı, en azından benim için. Kitabın sonlarında da yazarın o nisbeten nesnel üslubunu bir kenara ...more
What a great perspective of cultural differences and why groups behave the way they do.
This book was so much fun. It provides rational explanations for seemingly bizarre behaviors, and the analysis is as fun as the behavior. The witch hunts were a way to distract the citizenry from the corruption of the upper class and the church. The Yammammo- well, they are always good for a laugh. And there is much to learn about food taboos. Perhaps the most difficult to wrap my head around is the female infanticide, but it certainly gave me plenty to think about. A fabulous and thought-provok ...more
This is a fascinating book about anthropology. The book literally is about cows, pigs, wars, and witches, but what this plain title can't convey is how this book is packed with riveting explanations of the mysteries of cultural attitudes toward these four things, or how profoundly relevant solving these mysteries are for understanding our own culture.

Why do Indians worship cows? Many Indians don't even know, but after reading this book's explanation, you'll understand all the historical and econ

Una de las cosas buenas que tiene que Criptonomicón se publicase en 3 partes es que pude hacer un intermedio y leer este magnífico ensayo entre las partes 2 y 3.

Como ya he dicho, este libro me parece genial, y le doy 5 estrellas (de lo mejor que leí en 2005). Puedo decir que me transformó y que me hizo interesarme por la antropología y plantearme la historia y la imagen que tenemos de las distintas culturas de una forma completamente distinta a como veía el mundo antes de leer este libro.

Si de

Oct 25, 2014 Becca rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jon
The first couple of chapters were mild-blowingly good. I thought Harris' explanations of foods that are taboo or vaunted and how those roles are not only logical, but dictated by the socioenvironmental setting in which they originate fascinating. He treats cultural norms as almost the results of Darwinian processes, which is a fascinating and really revolutionary approach. I was awed both by his treatment of rules that are second nature to me, like Jewish dietary laws, as well as those that were ...more
Chad Perrin
Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches is an informative, unconventional, and at times hilarious approach to exposing the forces at work in human culture that produce some of its most surprising extremes of social pathology, and even exposes the oft-ignored foundational assumptions of some of western culture's most sacred cows (so to speak) along the way. It addresses:

* literal sacred cows

* swine both sacred and profane

* primitive chauvinism; the formation of warrior cultures

* the path of development fro
Renee Pinkston
Cultural materialism, the theory named and used by Marvin Harris is probably my favorite theoretical mechanism within Anthropology. I first encountered in as an undergraduate and have since then fallen to its whims. This book, turns out does not do a very good job explaining or introducing this theory. Instead, this book, as it was written, is a very basic introduction to the world of Marvin Harris and his arguments on the existence of four major concepts within cultural materialism: cows, pigs, ...more
Harris, an anthropologist, takes the most extreme forms of human behavior and belief and tries to explain them in practical terms, ecologically, historically, economically. Fascinating and insightful.

The chapter on Cargo cults made me extremely interested in the following chapter on messianism; cargo isn't just LIKE messianism, it is a form of it. Unfortunately, my trust in him was shaken when I found his research on messiah theology and history to be completely shoddy. For example, he writes th
Jul 02, 2007 Ian rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone willing to question the world
At the end of the book, Harris writes that he likes to "de-mystify the world's mysteries," and that is precisely what he sets out to do and what I love about this book.

While other books by Harris might be more educational on a "world history" scale, this book investigates cultural-religious institutions and beliefs that are certainly relevant and educational. Harris doesn't really care what people and cultures believe, but instead he tries to explain why they believe what they do. He does this f
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American anthropologist Marvin Harris was born in Brooklyn, New York. A prolific writer, he was highly influential in the development of cultural materialism. In his work he combined Karl Marx's emphasis on the forces of production with Malthus's insights on the impact of demographic factors on other parts of the sociocultural system. Labeling demographic and production factors as infrastructure, ...more
More about Marvin Harris...
Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, Where We Are Going Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture Cultural Materialism Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Daily Life

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“Counter-culture celebrates the supposedly natural life of primitive peoples. Its members wear beads, headbands, body paint, and colorful tattered clothing; they yearn to be a tribe. They seem to believe that tribal peoples are nonmaterialistic, spontaneous, and reverently in touch with occult sources of enchantment...” 0 likes
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