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Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve

(The University Center for Human Values Series)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Most people in the world today think democracy and gender equality are good, and that violence and wealth inequality are bad. But most people who lived during the 10,000 years before the nineteenth century thought just the opposite. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, biology, and history, Ian Morris explains why. Fundamental long-term changes in values, Morris argues, a ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 22nd 2015 by Princeton University Press
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The subtitle says it all: How Human Values Evolve. In itself this is not particularly new or compelling, but the manner in which Ian Morris pursues the concept is. Mr. Morris is focused on the different ways each of these cultural stages of human development [hunter-gatherer, farming, and industrialization] captures energy. Foragers on a good day would capture no more than 10,000 kilocalories per person; agrarians no more than 10,000 kilocalories per person, whereas industrialized Western econom ...more
M.I. Lastman
Apr 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris
This book is dense with footnotes, displaying the author’s smug confidence in his considerable erudition. Unfortunately, the book itself does not demonstrate much aptitude for wise understanding on Morris’ part. Yes, he has a big idea: human values evolve to fit the wealth of society. That seems obvious enough, but the characteristic which gives the book a frisson of originality is the fact that for the purposes for the au
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
In his earlier book: Why the West Rules, Ian Morris developed his system of historimetrics. Supported by a detailed archeological study, IM argues that societies undergo discreet changes each time they pass through key thresholds in energy utilisation. In Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, IM applies these ideas to political and moral philosophy, showing how mankind’s native moral code adapts to differing material conditions.

For instance, hunter/gatherers operate in sm
Hall's Bookshop
Jun 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lucas
I always enjoy the sense of intellectual daring when an academic in one field attempts to reduce all of human knowledge to their own subspeciality; here Professor Morris shows how all of human values, and consequently human civilization, are a product of geography. Written with verve, it is a fascinating survey from a geographical, anthropological, and philosophical standpoint, and much of what is best in the book comes from the commentaries written by other academics and writers in those fields ...more
Pascal Schuppli
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
The good stuff first: It's a very readable book and if you didn't know much about hunters & gatherers (foragers) yet, you get a nice introduction (somewhat less so with farmers and "fossil fuel culture", because that's just not possible in the space allocated to it).

But now that I've read it, I really don't understand what its purpose is. Morris thesis that "each age gets the thought/values it needs" is so simplistic and all-encompassing that it can't explain anything; even worse, it doesn't ev
Lloyd Downey
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ian Morris is clearly a big picture man. I had read his book on "War: what is it good for" and it is a similar attempt to provide some sweeping generalisations about human history ...and maybe even some "rules" which have universal application. In the case of the current book his basic thesis is that humankind's development can essentially be slotted into three broad categories: 1). The forager, 2). The Farmer and 3). The consumer of fossil fuels. (As he admits somewhere, he was trying very hard ...more
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: phd, academic
I am not wholly convinced by Morris's thesis, but that did not diminish the pleasure of reading, as the evidence martialled (a large portion of human history) is very interesting for its own sake, and Morris's skills as a writer are good. The most fascinating portion of the book is, as Morris himself suggests, the debate that is encouraged by the four respondents. ...more
David Zerangue
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An incredibly enlightening read. It makes you look at the world in ways previously never considered. This will be one to place on the bookshelf for reference.
Elizabeth Smith
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I agree more with his detractors than him, but Mortis has written a very important book nevertheless.
Sophie Polyankina
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
This idea is quite thought-provoking, but not convincing to a believer's mind. ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
I am amazed that a book which has values in the title was written by someone who did not bother to do even the most basic research into the meaning of values and valuing.

This book has an interesting set-up, where the middle few chapters are reserved for other people (such as Margaret Atwood!) who comment on and critique the main ideas explained in the first chapters, followed by a response by the main author. It is in one of these comment chapters that Morris is schooled by Christine M. Korsgaa
Real Goose
Jun 10, 2022 rated it liked it
Great and interesting points are raised throughout this book. Some ideas and statistics will definitely stick with me, but overall, I don't think I fully agree with the argument that Morris proposes, and I found the way he measures violence outdated and irrelevant.

My main critique of this book is the fact that Morris uses human caused death 100 humans to be the decide that fossil fuel users are completely adverse to violence in comparison to hunter-gatherers. To put it shortly, Morris believes t
Stefan Schubert
Jul 28, 2020 rated it liked it
The parts on foragers and farmers are interesting. The convergence in values across different foraging societies is striking, as is the same convergence across different farming societies. Similarly his observation that different farming societies gradually reached more complex stages of social organisation in a fairly similar fashion is interesting.

I was a bit less impressed by the part on industrial fossil fuel society, however. Overall, the book was quite shallow and brief (it's a series of l
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
The format for this writing is rather unusual. Derived from the Princeton Tanner Lectures, this book presents the argument, and then refutations and comments by four different thinkers from different disciplins. Ian Morris then gets to close the book with another chapter to wrap everything up.
Even though this book does not explain everything in every detail, I found the argument compelling, and the comments and critiques of the contributors were very much a valuable addition to the main text.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting thesis and book format. I enjoyed most the critiques and then Morris replies to the critiques. My opinion - glad I read the book (most of it); don't believe his thesis holds up as he presents it. It struck me quite odd that effective contraception (the pill) wasn't mentioned by Morris or the critics as a key (if not the key) game changer for women's role in the economy, and thus indirectly in shaping our value system.

Korsgaard takes Morris to task for suggesting that there are no fun
Victor Rotariu
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good, very good
A bit academic with the comments from others and the response to comments
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Thoughtful and careful analysis of the connection between social values and human ability to extract energy. Made all the more valuable by having critique by others built in.
Apr 19, 2021 rated it liked it
A fascinating premise. I merely skimmed because the writing is dense with academic minutiae not relevant to my interests, but I'm glad to have encountered the ideas. ...more
Horace Derwent
Mills College Library
303.4 M8763 2015
Mike Peleah
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Why my wife bears big sack and walks, while I am riding the donkey? Because she has no donkey"--was the response of Greek farmer to group of British archaeologists. With this respond in mind Ian Moris wrote a book (actually gave a lecture at Princeton University), addressing the central issue--"does the way we capture energy affect our values?" His response--yes, a great deal.

There are three broad stages of human society organization--hunter-gatherers, farmers, and industrial society. These st
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The main idea is that human values and the structures of our societies are driven by how much energy our society can capture and the methods we have to capture it. For example hunter-gatherer societies tend to be really egalitarian because everyone has to do the same work and there is no room for specialized roles, but as they turn into agrarian societies, they turn really hierarchical with different classes of society and little social mobility. Or put another way, egalitarian hunter-gatherer s ...more
Mark Valentine
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although Morris never asked me to write a critical response for inclusion in his book like he did the others--a device I found almost endearing (Margaret Atwood's is the best!)--I will place a brief response here: His three phases of cultural evolution is useful. The concept of energy capture as a unit of social measurement recharges the debate. But he missed including the exploitation of workers in capitalist systems; in fact, he omits capitalism in order to study industrialization instead.

Morris, a classical archeologist at Stanford, offers a very readable contribution to what is by now a long line of “materialist” explanations of why our values are what they are, one that runs from the economist Karl Marx to the anthropologist Marvin Harris. Morris’s central thesis is that the way in which humans extract energy (and how much they extract) correlates powerfully with their systems of values. Morris is vague on the mechanisms by which energy sources produce moralities, but fascinat ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellently laid out. Very clear thesis, and well supported. This is a good book for anyone with or without much of an economic anthropology background. Good overview of energy needs and what drives people to make different decisions.

Could have done without the book review/response section in the back, but it was interesting to see how some people took the proposed ideas.
Eric Pecile
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it
A very superficial essentialist overview of the evolution of values over the course of human history. While the argument does fall very short due to use of very general evidence, the method has its rewards. Studying the impact of values on historical phenomena is far more convincing and useful for historians than attempting to argue for the superior moral aesthetics of particular moral systems.
Christopher Johnson
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good reductionist view of the history of man.
Jean Corbel
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: society
beware... this book might make you think, not least because it includes respondents.
it offers another prism to explain hence understand our ecosystem.
Andrew Liu
Dec 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
One more "Best-seller rubbish historical fiction" pretending to be a "serious book." Neoliberal values' cliche. ...more
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really interesting.

(I read the important part.)
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