Amazon Customer Review
- Marvin Harris is one of those writers that it's almost impossible to disagree with, while you are reading him. Later, when you've put down his book, and you're trying to recap his points, they seem simplistic and muddy. So you pick up the book again and, there they are, all his arguments and evidence, as clear and convincing as ever.
- I think this has to a lot to do with the sheer quality of his writing, as well as the fact that he is someone who has spent the better part of his life studying, teaching, and observing human culture. His themes are broad, and sweep over the entirety of human cultural evolution.
- Harris is convinced of the primacy of humankind's ecological roles and modes in shaping human culture. He explains warfare, the state, the male superiority complex, food taboos, industrialism, plant and animal domestication, cannibalism – all in terms of the productive and demographic imperatives of human life throughout the past several thousand years.
- His basic argument is presented as a cycle: when the going is good, human populations expand. But as population pressures increase, the current method of obtaining energy and protein from the environment must be intensified. This intensification, however, comes at the price of diminishing returns for time invested. Sooner or later a crisis is reached. The humans in question must either restrict their population growth (primarily through infanticide, abortion1 or contraception), or up the technological ante and find a new way of exploiting their environment.
- And so civilization ratchets onward, increasing the level of time spent on subsistence, sharpening the hierarchies of power, bringing cities, and prisons, and slavery, and bosses, etc.
- Along the way, various cultural oddities can be explained as responses to material trade-offs. But no mere description of Marvin Harris' writing does him justice. Read the book.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)