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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  4,668 ratings  ·  691 reviews
The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he'd bee
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by William Morrow
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Pat Padden I did. I thought that watching Carl Hoffman's trajectory in coming to terms with the Asmat people and their culture, and comparing it to Michael Rocke…moreI did. I thought that watching Carl Hoffman's trajectory in coming to terms with the Asmat people and their culture, and comparing it to Michael Rockefeller's disastrous encounter, was a good framework for the story. Hoffman realized the arrogance of his stance toward his - let's call them his hosts. Rockefeller was clueless to the end. (less)

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Start your review of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating read on so many levels. First is the story of the Rockefeller’s and their wealth along with their commitment to philanthropy and the arts. Second is Michaels journey to acquire artifacts that leads to his demise. Brilliant job by the author to recreate Michael’s journey to try and solve the mystery into Michaels death. Another one sit reads.
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
From one island to another; ten thousand miles away, but tens of thousands of years apart...'Safe Return Doubtful'

I had a mental image at the start of Hoffman's novel: the privileged Rockefeller, a poster boy for REI, standing ankle deep in the swamp mud, surrounded by his equipment bearing entourage; pockets bulging with credit cards and currency, a million dollar smile, and those ubiquitous thick framed black glasses. Gazing back at him, the stone age Asmat people, smeared with ash and mud, bo
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: firstreads
The redeeming parts of this book were too few and far between to warrant more than two stars. And two is generous, believe me.

I'm upset for the poor Rockefeller family (bet that's the only time you'll hear that). Just because they're huge doesn't mean their personal sorrows can be made public in such a sensational way, for the profit of another. They indicated they wanted nothing to do with this project and that they preferred to focus on the official cause of disappearance and death of Michael
Montzalee Wittmann
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman is an interesting book. I enjoyed the parts about Rockefeller but there is a lot that is not about him and just about other things and seems to ramble. Parts of that was interesting but some was boring. I thought the very opening about how Michael "might" have died was a bit disrespectful because no one knows how he died and to speculate in such a gruesome detail was unneces ...more
Hoffman's book tells not only of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance in Netherlands New Guinea (now Irian Jaya, or West Papua, a part of Indonesia), but also the authors two visits to the same area in his research.

Michael Rockefeller had spent a lot of time in the Asmat area of Dutch New Guinea, with a guide / translator attempting to purchase 'stone age artifacts' from the towns in the region. Those items he succeeded in purchasing are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as a pa
Mikey B.
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it

This is definitely an interesting story of Michael Rockefeller, son of the very wealthy Nelson Rockefeller.

It tells how Michael, like his father, became interested in primitive art. But he wanted to go one step further – to go to the source. In this case the source was New Guinea – at that time (1961) a Dutch colony, but it was soon to become part of Indonesia. The complexity of this territorial transfer, and how it was to impact the search for Michael Rockefeller, is well explained in the book
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The World's Literature, a group in Goodreads, is reading books from Southeast Asia and Oceania in 2015. This book isn't on the official list but after reading Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak, I didn't want that to be my only experience with New Guinea. I made a long list of potential reads and this book seemed to be the most recent.

I expected a sensationalized account of Michael Rockefeller, who died on a trip back to New Guinea in 1961. Instead I found a
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The positives of this book is it's good historical detail of the former Dutch New Guinea region and the Asmat tribes that lives there, and of young Michael Rockerfeller's missions to collect primitive art from them during the early 1960's and his subsequent disappearance. The negatives are that it gets very repetitive after less than half of the book, the author gives himself into a lot of speculation as to how Rockefeller met his end with no hard evidence and that he gets very critical of how t ...more
Joy D
Part memoir, part biography, this non-fiction delves into the mystery of the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller, in 1961. At age 23, Michael had just graduated from Harvard. He traveled to what was then Netherlands New Guinea (now part of Indonesian Papua) to film a documentary and collect artifacts for his father’s Museum of Primitive Art. Michael and his colleague, René Wassing, were crossing the mouth of a turbulent river in a catamaran on the Arafura sea off the ...more
Grace Tjan
Apr 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, indonesia, ebook
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. Don't mess with cannibals, even supposedly reformed ones, especially if they have a particularly bloody creation myth that they insist on reenacting in real life.

“DESOIPITSJ WAS OLDER and unable to hunt, so Biwiripitsj had to do all the work. One day the boy brought home a wild pig. He cut off the head and thrust a cassowary bone dagger into its throat, pinning the head to the floor. “Bah, a pig’s head is but a pig’s head,” said Desoipit
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, rereading
It was late at night when an Asmat man came to our shelter. He carried a sack and proudly opened it to show us his greatest treasure; a human enemy skull which he claimed to have inherited it from his father. It was in 1996, exactly 15 years to the day since Michael Rockefeller disappeared in the same area which added to the creepy atmosphere.

Michael was in the Asmat region to collect wood carvings for the Museum of Primitive Art, which his father, Nelson Rockefeller had opened in New York. The
Annie Witt
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Savage Harvest" is about much more than Michael Rockerfeller's disappearance in 1961. This book is brilliant and contains elements of exploration, self-analyzing, anthropology, and politics.

From the beginning I could not put the book down. The book begins with a graphic account of a man being killed and ritually eaten by other men captivates the reader to know more. I was drawn into wanting to know more about the Asmat and how they live in a world profoundly different from the one occupied by a
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in primitive art or anthropology
The official pronouncement was: Missing. Presumed drowned.

That's how the general public might remember Michael Rockefeller, who vanished off the coast of Dutch New Guinea on November 19, 1961. Why should we care about an event that happened over 50 years ago? There's a sensational element, of course. Michael was the son of Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York. There was also a disturbing element, that there were still places in the latter half of the 20th century that could swallow up a
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Superb detail. Ethnography? More a fantastic and clearly noted progression to "try" and I say "try" in parentheses purposely, to seat the reader in a Asmat jeu worldview of reality. For any human with electricity or farmed food, that probably is not possible. Although it doesn't hold the level of studied definition parley as a "Blackberry Winter" or definitions of more current Anthropology, it does start to bridge the gap between hunter-gatherer awareness and human post-farming /domesticated ani ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
How exactly does one delineate the merits of a book where the general theme is one which is so steeped in the issues of cannibalism and savagery at the same time? Herein lies the crux of describing "Savage Harvest." I don't really know where to begin but suffice to say not only did the story draw me in, but it fascinated and greatly disturbed me at the same time. As sickened as I felt by parts of it, it made me just press on further - I HAD to find out just what the full story behind the disappe ...more
I've been listening to a lot of nonfiction while commuting in 2014. I find that nonfiction isn't distracting while driving. Surprisingly, I have gotten a lot of joy out of listening to audiobooks which I didn't expect.

Disappointing, however, I couldn't get engaged in Savage Harvest till the last of the CD's. Then the cultural story and Michael Rockefeller all came together.

Here are some exceptional nonfiction I have listened to this year that I would highly recommend:

5 Days at Memorial
A House i
Chris Witkowski
May 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was drawn to this book, the author's attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the son of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York State, because of the close connection the events recounted in the book had to my family. It was at my youngest brother's Christening party, on November 19, 1961, that my father, who was press secretary to Rockefeller, received a phone call summoning him to Rocky's side, to begin a journey to Papua, New Guinea, to searc ...more
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: unsolved-mystery
FINALLY!!! One of the greatest unsolved mysteries explored and analyzed. And it turns out, one of the most widely held beliefs is most likely true; Michael was most likely killed by the natives.
Leah Polcar
The story is amazing, the telling of it is not. I felt as if Hoffman just could not decide on a thesis: is this about Asmat culture? Primitive art? Hoffman's travelogue? Michael Rockefeller's death? Colonial rule? There is a little bit about all these things and with the exception of presenting a compelling case to explain Rockefeller's disappearance in 1961 and the exposition of his feelings about "the primitive" (i.e. indigenous peoples) and how off-putting it is to swim in a river with poop f ...more
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book. I really did. The book seemed interesting on first glance: Searching for Michael Rockefeller, grandson of famous Rockefeller, who was lost in New Guinea. However, the book read much more like a thesis and/or dissertation than actual novel. The author was very heavy handed in his assumptions and conclusions of how Michael met his end. After reading the book and Hoffman's hypotheses, I am not convinced that Michael did not drown (which would favor the Rockefeller's conc ...more
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was in Junior High when the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller on an expedition for primitive art in New Guinea splashed all over the national media. One night at dinner my dad, who had been stationed there during World War II said, "I bet the headhunters ate him." We all laughed & my mom swatted him with a dish cloth because it was so ridiculous. Such things did not happen in 1961. However, that apparently is exactly what did happen as Carl Hoffman describes in detail in this extraordinary ...more
Audiobook read by Joel Barrett.

In November 1961, Michael Rockefeller went missing in New Guinea while visiting there to bring back primitive art to his family's museum in New York. His boat capsized in the rough waters off the coast and he decided he could swim to shore. His boatmates stayed with the boat and they attached two gas cans around his waist to act as flotation devices. The boatmates were rescued within 24 hours. Michael was never seen again. Despite the Rockefeller wealth and the det
This book fits neatly onto the same bookshelf as Robert Lyman's Among the Headhunters: An Extraordinary World War II Story of Survival in the Burmese Jungle and Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-la, with the added bonus of a genuine unsolved mystery. Plus, it provided endless backstory to the Michael Rockefeller permanent exhibit at the Met, which I remember visiting not long after it opened in the early 80's.

I'm usually leery whenever a book (or TV documentary) promises "new evidence that fina
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Michael Rockefeller, 23 years old and a recent Harvard grad was New York royalty in 1961. Michael's great grandfather John D. Rockefeller was at one time the richest man in the US and his grandson, Michael's father Nelson, was Governor of New York. It was initially reported that Michael had drowned off the coast of New Guinea while attempting to source primitive art for his families' museum in Manhattan. Rumor had it that Michael actually made it to shore only to be murdered and eaten by the Azm ...more
Jan C
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What happened to Michael Rockefeller and why? A big story in 1961 was the disappearance of Nelson Rockefeller's son, Michael. After college, he wanted to do something on his own to make his father proud. Nelson had recently opened a Primitive Art Museum (from the book it sounds as though it has been absorbed into the Museum of Modern Art) and Michael had been placed on the Board. He heads off to New Guinea (not directly, the book goes into detail) and he is returning to a particularly savage are ...more
I like books about unsolved and unsolvable mysteries. There aren't enough unknowns left in this world anymore. You can pull out your phone and figure out almost anything at any time. But you'll never know for sure what happened to Michael Rockefeller.

He was the great-grandson of that Rockefeller, the robber baron, and he travelled around the world, buying up "primitive" art from artisans in tribal societies. Much of the art he collected is now displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New Y
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I just plowed through this book. It was an incredible page turner. I learned a lot about the history of New Guinea, an area that I knew nearly nothing about. Four stars because I was left with more questions than answers. What happened to the ladies? Carl Hoffman wrote nearly nothing about the women in the Asmat tribe, while giving us an incredibly detailed picture of the life of the men and their incredible spiritual world. I wish there were more pictures. Apparently Michael Rockefeller took ma ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book from Goodreads. This is not a book I would normally choose to read. Mostly because it's non fiction, but also because it's not a story that on its face seemed particularly compelling. But I entered the giveaway on a last minute whim, won the book and was happily surprised. The first three quarters were interesting -- providing historical background to a part of the world I know very little about. But the last quarter was particularly interesting and compelling as it got into the ...more
The very idea of cannibalism is truly foreign to most first world people. This book shares a true example that pits ultimate power and wealth (the Rockefellers ) against a primitive community in Indonesia.
There were actually a couple of factors that I had never considered in why and how this practice took place. The most intriguing one is of survival and not from positioning for strength, but in having humans be a source of fat and protein where there is little more than fruits and small fish a
Heather Fineisen
Michael Rockefeller went missing in 1961 while on a trip to New Guinea to collect primitive art from its original sources. Speculation is that he drowned or was a victim of cannibalism. The author goes on a journey in Rockefeller's footsteps to find out the truth but the remaining members of the tribe aren't talking. An anthropological look at the region and a Dutch and Indonesian history lesson as well as young Rockefeller' s story. ...more
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Play Book Tag: Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman - 4 stars 1 10 Aug 13, 2019 04:07PM  
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Carl Hoffman is the author of five books. The Last Wild Men of Borneo was an Amazon Best Books of 2018, a finalist in the Banff Mountain Book Competition and long listed for an Edgar Prize. Savage Harvest was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, a NY Times best seller, a Washington Post notable book of 2014, was shortlisted for an Edgar Award and has been translated into eight languages. The Lunatic ...more

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“Could the “killing” of Michael have been a nativistic story that a few men had promulgated to increase their status and power in a rapidly changing world?” 1 likes
“But the world is in motion, we are but small pieces, and control is an illusion. We make our own luck, our own destiny, but only to a point, and we never know what could happen at any moment—” 0 likes
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