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Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  3,232 ratings  ·  475 reviews
A riveting account of the astonishing experiences and discoveries made by linguist Daniel Everett while he lived with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil.

Everett, then a Christian missionary, arrived among the Pirahã in 1977–with his wife and three young children–intending to convert them. What he found was a language that defies all existing
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 11th 2008 by Pantheon
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3.92  · 
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 ·  3,232 ratings  ·  475 reviews

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Jun 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know know that situation when you meet somebody and they really annoy you but later on, much to your surprise, you end being very good friends with them? That's what happened with me and Mr Everett. My initial reaction to him and what I was reading was: Oh geez, what an American! And I apologise to all my American friends, I love you all, but I did mean that pejoratively. One example: Everett was really upset with all the people of Brazil for seemingly not giving a damn about the fact his wi ...more
Kim Malcolm
Feb 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book but I never really trusted its author, a linguist with an editor who used the phrase "a myriad of" in the first chapter. Everett's descriptions of the Pirahas are oddly incongruent. For example, he characterized them as "peaceful" right before mentioning the rape of a young woman by "most" of the men in the village. While most anthropologists would consider this a significant event, Everett refers to it in parentheses. Everett says the Pirahas are lacking in ritual and ...more
David Rim
Feb 10, 2010 rated it liked it
Ok, I'll say it. It creeps me out when over-educated/churched white people go to live in jungles with non-white/non-educated/underprivileged people to "learn" their way and then promote their way of life as some kind of idyllic vision.

The writing is not great, so you'll have to enjoy this one on its non-fiction contributions. The general idea, as Everett puts it, is that standard view of linguistics (grammar is divorced somewhat from semantics and is universal in nature) cannot account for the o
David Campton
I gave this book a relatively poor rating, not because I am a Christian minister and this book concludes (SPOILER ALERT) with the unsurprising revelation that through his work with the Piraha he had abandoned his Christian faith, but because it was a literary dog's dinner. Wasn't entirely sure what the author was trying to do in this book. Was it an autobiography, linguistic anthropology, critique of Chomsky's theories, or an anti-missionary apologetic? The lack of a clear structure and aim to t ...more
Jay Green
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not mind-blowing (I've been around too long to have my mind blown), but undoubtedly mind-expanding. A fascinating account of one evangelical Christian's conversion to agnosticism as a result of years spent studying a remote Amazonian tribe's language and culture. Some very amusing anecdotes combined with some illuminating observations about the role of culture in shaping language, contrary to the prevailing paradigm of linguistics. Well worth a read.
Frank Stein
May 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Another one of the best books I've read all year.

At first I was enjoying the book as a fairly typical, though well-written, anthropology slash adventure story, concerning an idealistic young missionary who goes off into the Amazon to convert an almost untouched tribe of hunter-gatherers. Everett gives a wonderful sense of life among the tribe, and of those great little moments which show exactly how similar and how different we all are: from the time the men killed the anaconda for the sole purp
Everett's limitations with regard to religion made him unable to understand that the Piraha really did have a religion. They actually spoke to him about their interactions with spirits. The Piraha accept only direct experience as valid. This is why the Bible has no meaning to them, but if Everett had said "I saw Jesus today and this is what he told me," they would have accepted that as legitimate testimony. Direct interaction with the divine is found in all religious traditions. The Piraha appro ...more
Jeremy Keeshin
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
In Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, Daniel Everett, a linguist and missionary, tells his story about going to live and study among the Piraha in the Amazon. It’s a great story and lots of fun to read. I’d say it’s especially fun considering the latter part of it is almost like a casual linguistics textbook but still very fascinating.

The book is part biography, part linguistics research, but also jumps into philosophy and trying to reconcile conflicting ideas on cultural values.

Everett starts off a
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
UPDATE 2/28/2019 -- revised review and rating.
Ughhh I mentioned this book in my thesis proposal today and one of the committee members (linguistics professor) said to not take Everett's claims too seriously. The examples cited in this book were anecdotal, which is not necessarily always a problem. BUT - the issue was Everett has never been open to sharing his data (as he seemed to claim in this book).

I came across this book from a linguistics seminar on language perception and production
Mar 29, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it liked it
2017 Reading Challenge category: 7. A book with an animal on the cover or in the title

Daniel Everett is a former missionary and current linguist who has spent a bunch of time with a native group called the Pirahã in Brazil. My opinion of this book jumped around a lot over time. Everett is clearly a gifted linguist, but aside from that, this was clearly a book written by someone who had the foresight to say yes to an interesting experience as opposed to someone who is an inherently interesting wr
Richard Reese
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One day, listening to the jungle drums on the info-stream, I heard that a study had concluded that the happiest people in the world were the Pirahã (pee-da-HAN) tribe of the Amazon (true). I heard that some guy then went to visit them, to discover the source of their bliss (false). I heard that his name was Daniel L. Everett, and the book was Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes (true). My library had the book, and reading it was a rewarding experience (true).

Everett spent much of 30 years among the P
Gabriel Lando
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have been thinking about the Pirahã language for quite a while. This book, written by the only non-Pirahã person in the world that is fluent in the language, is invaluable: The discovery that Pirahã uses exocentric communication, has basically no consonant value, has such a richness of registers and has the inclusion of proximity degree within its agglutinative verbs... All so well described. It's amazing to read this man's 30 year journey into this completely new, untranslatable universe, and ...more
Mar 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most interesting books I've read in recent memory. The author (a former-Christian-missionary-turned-linguist) gives an account of his time spent among the Piraha people of the Amazon and what he learned about their culture and language during his years trying to convert them to Christianity and translate the Bible into their language, Piraha.

The first section of the book describes the daily trials of living in the Amazon, how the Pirahas live, what they do, and how they intera
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: curious people
As anyone who has had a conversation with me over the last week can attest to, I think this book, and especially the parts about the culture of the Piraha tribe in the Amazon rainforest is fascinating. The Piraha have frequent contact with neighboring tribes and Brazilians, traders, anthropologists, linguists on a regular basis, yet they are isolationists and somehow seem to avoid being contaminated by any hint of consumerism, ambition or outside culture in any sense. They are content with their ...more
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an eye-opener this book is for us civilized folks whose only imaginable way of life is the Western bourgeois life. Daniel Everett lived on and off for seven years among a small tribe in the Brazilian Amazon named Pirahã. His goal was to convert them into Christianity. Instead, what he found in the jungle and what he learned from the the Piraha ended up challenging everything he believed in.

The first section of the book, which is about the way the Pirahã live their lives, is absolutely amazi
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: linguistics
Daniel Everett is a linguist and a former Christian missionary. Starting in 1977, he spent 30 years living with his family among the Pirahã people, a tribe of several hundred hunters-gatherers residing in a few riverside villages in Brazil's state of Amazonas. Although the Pirahã had first been contacted by the outside world in the 18th century, before Everett no outsider had been able to learn their language, the last surviving member of its language family; speakers of the other languages in t ...more
This book seems like three separate books rolled into one. I'm not sure that they all belonged in one volume. And parts of all three are mixed together with no discernible method of ordering them.

The first of the three books is a collection of stories from the author's experiences living with the Pirahas, an Amazonian tribe still largely untouched by the modern world. Most of these stories were good; some were boring. If he had stopped here, I would have given him 4 or 5 stars. This was the book
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
I thought this would have been better with less atheist proselytizing. Most of the study seems to have been conducted on male pirahã even though he alludes to the fact women speak differently. This seems to lead to the presentation of the male variant as standard. He also romanticizes the tribe to fit what he wants to see, painting them in as evidence driven atheists, which just misses the mark to me, based on his description of their spiritualism, and peaceful while glossing over incidents of g ...more
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about a Christian missionary who goes to Brazil. While his initial mission is as a missionary, he is also a linguist. I was reading this book to prepare for a qualitative research course I am teaching next semester. I think this will be a great read for the class. It's also so interesting that I have been reading parts of it to my boys who are aged 9, 9, & 11. (Note that I said I am reading selected parts - not all of this is appropriate for children. But the adventure and t ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
My husband picked this one up and spent quite a bit of time telling me about the Pirahas and so I felt somewhat required to read it. Overall it is a very interesting book with lots of great stories about jungle life, funny anecdotes and life lessons. As a “pop” linguistic book, it is slightly educational and very readable (and so can appeal to the masses). I am not a linguist and realize that some of my comments below may be misguided, misdirected, or just completely off the mark.

However, I do
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I took issue with a few things. At first, I enjoyed Everett's descriptions of his time spent with the Piraha, a small, surviving band of indigenous Amazonians. There's no doubt that he spent an enormous amount of time studying the Piraha and their language. He shares many details I found interesting such as how they make their bows and arrows, their use of exocentric navigational orientation, and hum speech, to name a few. However, as I continued to read, I couldn't shake the niggling sense that ...more
The stuff about the Pirahã culture and Daniel's life in the jungle with them was really interesting. It was quite linguistics-heavy at times, which largely went over my head. I wish he'd explained more about his actions as a missionary and subsequent de-conversion; that part is glossed over quite quickly at the end.
Josh Pendergrass
An ethnography of a small tribe living deep in the Amazon – the Piraha people. What this really is is a fascinating look at the power that language has to shape our experience and our reality. The Piraha language is structured in such a way that they have no way of expressing that which exists outside of direct experience. They cannot speak of the past or the future, there is only the present. To a Westerner it might be hard to fathom how profoundly the Piraha language influences their experienc ...more
Patrick Gibson
Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Patrick by: Jason Weeks
Twenty-six year old Daniel Everett left the United States 1977 for the bowels of the Amazon, as a Christian missionary, to study the language of a remote tribe called the Pirahas (pronounced ‘pee-da-HAN’) and eventually translate the Bible into this rare and extremely difficult dialect. Now, Daniel admits, he is old enough for senior discounts and his grandchildren all know the Pirahas. He has also written a wonderful book about the complexities of language, culture, society, survival, death, an ...more
Apr 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is not terribly well-written. However, the subject matter absolutely fascinating, and the book is completely worth reading solely based on the author's unique experience with the Pirahã. You will find this book interesting if you're interested in linguistics, anthropology—or aliens or invented cultures in science fiction and fantasy.

The major problems are with pacing and organization. There were strange choices about the details included and glossed over in anecdotes. (I kept thinking,
Oct 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
I found myself disappointed with this book through Part I. I sought it out to read after hearing Everett interviewed about his experience living among and studying the language of the Pirahas. During the interview he noted that the Piraha language lacks recursivity, which I had learned was a feature of all languages. This intrigued me. At the tail-end of the interview, he rather off-handedly dismissed Chomsky and universal grammar, which both intrigued me and put me off. I'm all for challenging ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Like other people who have reviewed this book here & on Amazon, I really, really wanted to like it. Looking at culture & language & how they affect one another, mixed with the personal story of a man who started out as a Christian missionary and abandoned his beliefs after living with a Amazonian tribe with no creation It just sounded fantastic. But, unfortunately, it was a let down. It was like a joke that has a really great set-up and falls flat at the punch line. I fe ...more
Feb 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Linguistics is one of my hobbies and so when I heard about this book I immediately put in a hold request at the local library. It was worth the wait. The Pirahã are a hunter gatherer tribe living deep in the Amazon, pretty much dead in the middle of South America. One of the things that makes them unique is their language which does not seem to have any common roots with other languages on Earth. The author writes at length the challenges of learning a language he had nothing in common with the ...more
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a lot to recommend it — a first hand account of an Amazonian tribe who've had little contact with the outside world (although they had had some contact with other Christian missionaries and regular contact with river traders). It's worth reading to learn what it's like to live the jungle and the descriptions of insects and snakes certainly dispelled any romantic notions I had about travelling down the Amazon.

I was fascinated by this tribe who live in the "now" and communicate with
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Daniel L. Everett is dean of arts and sciences at Bentley University. He has held appointments in linguistics and/or anthropology at the University of Campinas, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Manchester, and Illinois State University.

“They have no craving for truth as a transcendental reality. Indeed, the concept has no place in their values. Truth to the Pirahãs is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria. Does this make them more primitive? Many anthropologists have suggested so, which is why they are so concerned about finding out the Pirahãs notions about God, the world, and creation.

But there is an interesting alternative to think about things. Perhaps it is their presence of these concerns that makes a culture more primitive, and their absense that renders a culture more sophisticated. If that is true, the Pirahãs are a very sophisticated people. Does this sound far-fetched? Let's ask ourselves if it is more sophisticated to look at the universe with worry, concern, and a believe that we can understand it all, or to enjoy life as it comes, recognizing the likely futility of looking for truth or God?”
“I did not see Pirahã teenagers moping, sleeping in late, refusing to accept responsibility for their own actions, or trying out what they considered to be radically new approaches to life. They in fact are highly productive and conformist members of their community in the Pirahã sense of productivity (good fishermen, contributing generally to the security, food needs, and other aspects of the physical survival of the community). One gets no sense of teenage angst, depression, or insecurity among the Pirahã youth. They do not seem to be searching for answers. They have them. And new questions rarely arise.” 4 likes
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