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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 August 2011
I found this an enormously useful introduction to economic anthropology.

One of the book's aims is to provide an introduction to economic anthropology, which includes a detailed description of how the subject developed out of early economic theory and early anthropological ideas. In this it is very successful. It clearly delineates the three main approaches in the past, as well as discussing the merits of two more recent hybrids. It is an excellent history of how economic anthropology evolved and where it now stands. Different viewpoints are described with great clarity, and differences between superficially similar theories are explained in detail. By the end of the book the reader should have a very clear understanding of all the main ideas, writers and approaches and the inherent problems with each of them.

On the downside, although the book refers to the lack of dialogue or debate between economists and economic anthropologists, it devotes no space to what the differences between the two disciplines are and why dialogue between them should be so difficult. It is assumed that the reader will know this already, which I think is a mistake in an introductory text. The book "Economic Anthropology" by Hann and Hart (2011) may be better for someone who wants more details in this area.

A second aim of the book was to defend the discipline of economic anthropology, which has been in the doldrums for several years, and to suggest a way forward. In this it is much less successful. Only a few pages at the end of the book are dedicated to suggesting how the three conflicting approaches to economic anthropology can be reconciled so that the subject can move forward in a useful way, contributing to an understanding of how anthropology can assist with an understanding of economic systems in different social schemes. For me, this failure to take the bull by the horns means that the book never really explained to me how economic anthropology is of value today, and what role it can play in the future.

The book was well written in a lively, articulate style, which is highly engaging. The writers know their material and are at pains to explain it well. It is very enjoyable to read. As a history of economic anthropology it is comprehensive and far easier to digest than some of the other similar texts covering the same territory. If you are new to the subject it might be a good idea to read "Economic Anthropology" by Hann and Hart (2011) as well. They complement each other well.

The Contents are as follows:

Economic Anthropology
Economics and the Problem of Human Nature
Self-Interest and Neoclassical Microeconomics
Social and Political Economy
The Moral Human: Cultural Economics
Gifts and Exchange
Conclusions: Complex Human Beings
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on 29 May 2001
It is, after all, basically a textbook. But with the dearth of more general books in economic anthropology, it is a nice contribution. Short, sweet, even spirited, an excellent primer in economic anthropology (and economic theory in general), and a nice little reference work, Wilk's book is a central part of by econ.anthropology-shelf. Don't agree with him on Sahlins, though...
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