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Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  131 ratings  ·  15 reviews
Are humans by nature hierarchical or egalitarian? Hierarchy in the Forest addresses this question by examining the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior. Christopher Boehm, an anthropologist whose fieldwork has focused on the political arrangements of human and nonhuman primate groups, postulates that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the wea ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 2nd 2001 by Harvard University Press (first published December 1st 1999)
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Richard Reese
Apr 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Christopher Boehm is a professor of anthropology and director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at the University of California. He has read hundreds of anthropological studies on a variety of human societies. He also spent time with Goodall at Gombe National Park, observing the behavior of wild chimpanzees. These experiences inspired him to speculate on our evolutionary journey, and to attempt the daunting challenge of defining “human nature,” the core essence shared by all humans. He present ...more
Jurij Fedorov
Jan 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Great book and information. Terrible writing.

This is must-know information for everyone working with groups. Very useful and informative to know that foragers became tribes and chiefdoms but still remained egalitarian as much as they could.

He starts the book with great examples from anthropology literature about bands and tribes. Great examples that illustrate his points. But the last 1/3 of the book is just mediocre philosophy without any good academic references like in the first part.
Bryn Hammond
Dec 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On early human politics. Did we/do we have to live in a world described by the hideous phraseology of dominance, submission and the alpha male?
No. We didn't; nobody (apes included) ever likes to, and we (and the apes indeed) defeated tyranny by coalitions, and kept tyranny down -- by the vigilance of coalitions. He looks at such behaviour in the apes, and in hunter-gatherers who remain in the world for us to study. Freedom, as a value, is gained and maintained in early-style societies, that are
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was super interesting and important because it really changed my understanding of hunter-gatherer egalitarian politics.

That being said, the author isn't a great writer; the book is repetitive, and it's annoying because this is not a report so much as a war cry and instruction manual for the assumed reader (the average man). "Guys!" Boehm says, "I have figured out a way for us to get rid of the alpha males that are stealing all the best chicks!"

I am super glad I read this book because
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: anth-sosh
Boehm has a relatively simple hypothesis: environmental circumstances pressured early hominids to evolve altruistically despite strong genetic pressure toward selfishness. His arguments are mostly convincing, and his knowledge of anthropology expansive enough to support any claims of expertise.

The packaging of this argument, however, leaves much to be desired. Boehm apparently feels the need to cover entirely too much ground in the effort to support his case, leaving the book feeling long, plod
Apr 09, 2015 rated it liked it
This book gives you a lot to think about. I'm just not a fan of calling collective self-defense against bullies a "reverse hierarchy." It's kind of an interesting way of looking at things and it makes for a provocative book but it also leads to some screwy ideas regarding the necessity of hierarchy to exist "in some form" in all human societies. Since human nature arguments will always be used to justify and demonize different political arrangements people are never gonna come to a full agreemen ...more
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hierarchy in the Forest was, for me, one of those happy and serendipitous circumstances when finding a book in a used book store changed my view of the world and my approach to research. Not only did it reframe how I understood political humor, and its role in egalitarian societies (the focus of my research), it changed how I viewed politics more generally. A good deal of research in political science, even that using evolutionary theory, tends to assume humans are ruled and defined by authorita ...more
Andreas Bodemer
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-core
Highly informative anthropological account of hierarchy, inequality, and gender roles as they are observed in primates and hunter gatherer tribes/bands.

In my top 5 nonfiction recommendations.
Jul 30, 2020 rated it liked it
It is a good book and even though it may seem dry for some, nonetheless is very valuable. It also has implications as to how we have organised ourselves and how we could organise ourselves in the future.

Acceptance & legitmation is so rampant in our societies that majority among take it to be a priori fact.
If there is one takeway from this , it is that hierarchy isn't an apriori fact of human existence. It is contingent on a host of environmentsl factors.
Alexios  Xifaras
Christopher Boehm, after extensive review of virtually all available ethnological data of small-scale societies, has written a magisterial book that covers a broad variety of topics. However the central thesis of this book is that human, contrary to chimps and other primates, have developed a stable social structure that is called “reverse dominance hierarchy”, in which the group's members find a way to discipline an aspiring oppressor. Highly recommend it ! ...more
Jun 27, 2020 marked it as to-read
recommended: [EP59 Gregg Henriques on Unifying Psychology - The Jim Rutt Show]( ...more
Mar 05, 2012 marked it as abandoned
Recommended to Adam by: Pickett and Wilkinson, in The Spirit Level
Boehm clearly establishes the book's main thesis: that in nearly all nomadic forager societies, as well as in many horticultural and pastoralist societies, egalitarianism is established and maintained by a strong social ethic. The entire community is constantly vigilant against those who attempt to usurp authority over others, wielding various levels of ostracism to discourage would-be despots. Thus, he characterizes egalitarian societies as community-led, rather than without a leader. The domin ...more
John Wylie
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
First to document "rough" egalitarianism in all hunter-gatherer societies, and, although giving his own hypothesis, noted that a theory is badly needed to explain it. ...more
Rob Sica
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for students of human nature.
Lisa Wilcox
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating look at how power was and is managed in so-called "primitive" societies, which may have maintained greater personal autonomy and egalitarian values than we imagine. ...more
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