I've never seen Brazil's Carnival, nor have I attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The last time I checked, though, they both were extremely colorful and exciting. People seemed to be having a lot of fun. If you're looking for even a faint echo of that, give this book a wide berth. DaMatta shuns almost any sort of description at all. He is SERIOUS ! This is a most academic book, meant not for general anthropologists, but for specialists in the study of ritual. For them, I would say this is a five star book---intelligent, imaginative, and interesting. If you plan to do studies of major rituals in any society---from the Balinese cockfight to the Spanish bullfight, from North Korean mass pictures in stadiums to the Ram Lila in north India---you will find this rock-hard analysis most useful and thought-provoking. You will be able to break off flints that will light fires in your research to come or make you re-analyze the research you have already completed. DaMatta not only delves into the meanings of all aspects of Carnival and how they reflect Brazilian society at large, but he ties his work to many of the past greats---Van Gennep, Durkheim, Leach, Turner, Geertz---and other, less known Brazilian social scientists' work as well.
He calls the Carnival "a multidimensional festival", with meaning on a number of levels. He contrasts the Brazilian one with the New Orleans Mardi Gras in one very erudite chapter and points out that if we examine both closely, we see that they are almost opposite in meaning. In Brazil, he compares Carnival with a military parade on Independence Day and with the religious processions that occur frequently during each year. Location or social space, dress, behavior---everything is grist for the mill. He stresses many times that `inversion' is the most salient aspect of Carnival. He has chapters on hierarchy in Brazilian society and on those who slip through the cracks--rogues, who might be heroes in fact. Without a great knowledge of Brazilian society (though I have read a number of books on it, and avidly consumed Amado, Machado de Asis, da Cunha, and other Brazilian writers over the years), I cannot say if I agree or disagree with the author's analysis. It is impressive, but extremely hard going. I found the discussion of ritual very valuable. DaMatta tried and succeeded in writing a theoretical book to rival those of earlier masters. His location in Brazil and writing in Portuguese probably precludes him being widely-known. His style reminds one of many French social-theorists. Yes, I mean only the most determined reader will make it to the end of CARNIVALS, ROGUES, AND HEROES. That's the sole reason why I have awarded an otherwise good book only three stars.