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Ishi's Brain: In Search of Americas Last "Wild" Indian

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  133 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
After the Yahi were massacred in the mid-nineteenth century, Ishi survived alone for decades in the mountains of northern California, wearing skins and hunting with bow and arrow. His capture in 1911 made him a national sensation; anthropologist Alfred Kroeber declared him the world's most "uncivilized" man and made Ishi a living exhibit in his museum. Thousands came to se ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton Company (first published February 2004)
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(showing 1-30)
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Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1911, a Native American man who looked about 50 appeared near a slaughterhouse in Oroville, CA, a town on the border of the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains. He looked starving; his hair was cropped short. The man did not understand English, Spanish or Maidu, a Native American language then still spoken in the valley. He was fed and put into the local jail while the authorities debated, what to do with him. An anthropologist at the University of California read the news of th ...more
Shane Gower
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very fascinating! I learned of Ishi while studying the Gold Rush in Sacramento as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History grant program. While there we visited the State Indian museum of California and our Indian guide (part Ohlone) told us about Ishi and this book. Having studied Maine's Native Americans some, I was intrigued. The book was all the more interesting to me because I had just been in that part of California where Ishi had li ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Theodora Kroeber's Ishi in Two Worlds for a class on the Literature of Ethnography; this is the modern counterpoint, and I'm excited to read it for myself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Orin Starn uses to good effect the mix of history and personal narrative that are becoming common lately.

The questions he raises along the way are the questions that have come to dominate anthropology recently, questions of identity, authenticity, hybridism, inequality. They are questions that can strike
Sarah Trabert
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starn, an anthropologist from Duke, had long been interested in the story of Ishi, the last of the Yahi and chose to write a very nice book re-telling Ishi's tale. Starn points out that previous work (a book and films) had been plagued with "white man's guilt" and did not always present an accurate re-telling of Ishi's background, reasons for turning himself in to white authorities, and what happened to him after he died.
This story is about more than one Native American or even Native America
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a well written and interesting account of the life of Ishi, famous as the last surviving "wild" Indian of northern California, and about the efforts of various people and groups to learn more about Ishi, and to repatriate his remains to groups that desired to give them a proper burial. It is also a detective story about the efforts of the author and others to learn the truth about what had happened to Ishi's brain after his death, and why.

Starn does a pretty good job of exploring the mo
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was great. It isn't necessarily a book about the man Ishi, but more about what his "missing body part" and its repatriation symbolized for Native Americans and Anthropologists alike.

Starn's writing is honest and unbiased, and his view of both science and Native California is unromantic - he is not afraid to admit that neither is completely innocent.

Most importantly for me, though, was Starn's treatment of modern-day, White America's ideas of what it means to be "Indian". Th
Dawn Mateo
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best anthropological book I have ever read about Ishi. I love doing my own research to further my knowledge in a subject that is less than 50 miles from my home. I learned of Ishi a few years back in college, so I already had a small interest in the subject and the legend.It was thrilling for me to open maps and realize I have been very near to every place spoken about in the book (that is, in Northern California) I was ASTOUNDED at how well Starn researched his information, not a stone was left ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling and thoughtful, this is the story of Ishi, the last "wild" Indian, and his life after he was captured (or turned himself in) in 1916. Although I've been familiar with Ishi since I read about him as a teenager, this book adds a lot to my understanding of the man, the anthropologists who studied him, and the way we now regard Native Americans. The writing is personal, as the author tells how he became involved in the Ishi story, and sought to examine it without the mythologies of either ...more
Ess Kay
While the history of Ishi and the journey of his brain through the academic and scientific worlds was interesting, this book felt too long by a third. I felt that the sections written about the Indian tribes involved in the reclamation efforts was clumsy. The history of anthropology was handled nicely, the detective-novelesque portions of the book were interesting, but the discovery of the smoking gun in the archives was anti-climactic and happened far too early, leaving a lot of pages to slog t ...more
This book is so poorly written but full of things I want to know about. It is interesting enough for me to keep turning the pages. I wish there was more about Ishi though. The further the story goes, the lamer the book gets. This book bore such little information on the actual subject matter, but am still glad I got around to finishing it.
This book is an incredible account of what happened to Ishi in California, and I really enjoyed the parts that were about Ishi himself - however, towards the end of the book, the author descends into a somewhat narcissistic account of his interaction with California tribes, which includes gossip and unrelated information. He should have ended the book 100 pages before he did.
Betsy McGee
Jun 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
While the book is not strictly about Ishi, the last "wild indian", it's a great story about what repatriation means for Native American tribes. It's also a great story about some of the clumsy first steps American Anthropology made.
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a great story. Informative and compelling.
Sep 05, 2007 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
interested in native americans...this one has been interesting so far....remembering watching the tv movie made about Ishi...
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ishi's story gets a modern update, along with the interesting history of anthropology in America.
Nov 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009-reads
An unusual (for me) foray into nonfiction. This one was recommended by a work friend, and it's very readable so far, even to little ol' fiction-oriented me.
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Apr 16, 2017
Abi W
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Feb 02, 2015
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Allison Mickel
rated it it was ok
Jan 10, 2015
rated it it was ok
Oct 07, 2007
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Sep 12, 2017
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Dec 18, 2013
Chris Hoffman
rated it it was amazing
Jun 22, 2013
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Aug 30, 2015
rated it it was amazing
Nov 09, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Nov 27, 2012
Robert Teeter
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Apr 20, 2013
susanna meacham
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Aug 31, 2010
rated it did not like it
Feb 15, 2010
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Orin Starn is Professor and Chair of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes and a co-editor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, both also published by Duke University Press. His most recent book is the award-winning Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian. An avid golfer with a five handicap, Starn ...more
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