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Reindeer people: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  296 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
A voyage of discovery into the life of a remote aboriginal community in the Siberian Arctic, where the reindeer has been a part of daily life since Palaeolithic times. The reindeer, along with the dog, was probably the first species to be drawn into a close relationship with man. This book, by an eminent British anthropologist, is the beautifully written story of how that ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 7th 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published January 1st 2005)
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Nov 29, 2015 Alexandros rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely fascinating and compelling journey through the Siberian Taiga that got me really invested from the very beginning, this one gets a 10 out of 10.
The Siberian reindeer herders’ camp is a fairly intimate collection of perhaps a dozen people and a few small tents, surrounded by thousands of square miles of space. One might mistakenly describe the space as empty, but in fact it is manifestly full. Stands of larch, lichen, grasses, bogs and lakes adorn the mountain ranges and river systems that feed into the Arctic Ocean. Bears, wolves, marmots, and other fur-bearing mammals, as well as birds, fish and spirits live here. Graves are carefully ...more
Feb 24, 2014 Sovatha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 13, 2016 Stefan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a FANTASTIC and fascinating work of nonfiction-and very informative for the vast majority of those in the West who have never heard of the Evens (Eveny), or for that matter any of the other reindeer peoples of Siberia. I was fascinated to learn about the relationship between these people and their reindeer (perhaps the only domestic animal that is essential to maintaining human life anywhere in the world). Reading this book also led me to read and learn about the conquest and even genoci ...more
Steve E.
Nov 10, 2008 Steve E. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 06, 2015 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating information about a rapidly declining culture.
Oct 25, 2015 Paulcbry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting book of one particular indigenous people of the Republic of Sakha in Russia. The author (an anthropologist) spends several years with the Eveny tribe in the Verkhoyansk Mountains. He describes the challenges these reindeer herders face in the harsh conditions often separated from their families. Shamanism is very prevalent among the tribe and from a western perspective lends itself to superstition which to the author's credit no presumption is made. A very good book re ...more
Peter Ellwood
Jul 06, 2014 Peter Ellwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 30, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 31, 2012 Loraine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 17, 2013 Paul Heikkila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2013 Cassca55 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 24, 2009 Tyler Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 13, 2014 Dace Medne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jan 14, 2014 Darcy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 12, 2016 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book to learn about Shamanism. It took the whole book for me to realise what Shamanism was as I, myself, felt I was on a long journey in the Arctic circle with the Reindeer people. The whole Reindeer culture and the differences between the towns, cities and nomads was very revealing. The stories of the people are sometimes quaint, humorous, and sometimes sad or tragic. The author spent a long time living with a family of nomads. Even though they were a totally different culture to my ...more
Jun 28, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Apr 19, 2008 Jean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 21, 2009 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 22, 2010 Erik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 18, 2015 James rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 08, 2010 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 09, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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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