Tyler's Reviews > Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris
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's review
Nov 08, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: 2008, nonfiction
Read in October, 2008

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 an expert on all matter historical, I usually factcheck history books by spot-checking the stuff I do know. If Marvin Harris's account of the religious landscape of first century Palestine is any indication, then his historical research was pretty shoddy. His "proof" that Jesus was really a warrior messiah is abysmally threadbare -- four verses from the Gospels, two of which he apparently doesn't realize are parallel synoptic accounts.

I'm giving this book three stars because it kept me entertained, and gave some interesting ideas to chew on. However, I wouldn't go to it as a foundation for my philosophy or anthropology.
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