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VINE VOICEon 10 November 2008
I bought this book on Saturday. It's Monday now and I've just finished it, which for me is very fast indeed, and a reflection on what a fascinating and well written book it is.

I heard the author talking about his travels and studies on BBC Radio 4 and thought his ideas about linguistics were interesting, but when I had a quick look at the book before I bought it I realised it was much more than an work about the theory of language. It's actually a rare combination of exciting adventure story, anthropology AND linguistics. The conclusions Everett reaches after 30 years of living amongst the Piraha people get right to the heart of what makes us who we are as human beings, and provide a fascinating insight into another way of life we would otherwise never have heard of, or at least would understand only superficially.

The first half of the book focuses on the lives of the Piraha (and the experiences of Everett living with them), the second half focuses on the linguistics. This structure works really well and the book is a great fusion of entertainment and information throughout.
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on 31 January 2009
Daniel Everett's beautufully written account of a linguist and missionary who arrogantly intends to 'convert' an obscure and endangered Amazonian tribe to Christianity, and thereby 'save' them. But he discovers that they are the happiest people he has ever met, living completely in the moment, with none of the psychological hang-ups that plague so-called civilized people. In a moving and courageous book, the author describes his deep admiration forthe tribe and eventual decision to give up 'the crutches' of orthodox religion and embrace a spirituality of the now.
Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
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on 13 November 2014
Revealing, enlightening, hilarious at times. Everett is an honest linguist and scientist, an honest human being but above all he is honest to the Pirahas, whose way of living proposes a secret to happiness. Great story teller and humble enough to share the profound teachings from this incredible, natural, people. The cherry of the cake is his well structured criticism to Chomsky's universal grammar theory and his own journey from missionary to atheist convert. I could not ask more. What a great surprise, what a great read.
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on 10 January 2011
This book was recommended by someone who works with tribes in the Amazon. I say that because it's not something I would normally pick up. Firstly, it is well written, judiciously edited and entertaining - unusual for a book ostensibly about linguistics! Secondly it takes us on both the physical and mental journey of the author as his struggle to understand the intriguing language and cultural interactions of the Pirahas people leads to the undermining of his "Born Again Christian" faith. The language of the Pirahas appears to have been structured around their culture (one in the eye for those tedious Chomkskites), and both are well designed to avoid the sort of religious nonsense and brainwashing that Christian missionaries inflict. They don't even have a creation myth. As Dan unwraps the mysteries of their language and the cultural interactions, he starts to think differently and has an epiphany that turns the lights on about the truth of religion.

Sadly, Dan Everett may have seen the light but it appears his own journey from darkness and the resulting book has just made the Pirahas more of a challenge for missionaries. They now appear to be focussing on the young Pirahas. How long before missionaries and the pressures of the modern world transform "the happiest people on earth" into miserable frightened god botherers - perhaps Dan will write a sequel to follow up? "Don't sleep, there are missionaries..."
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on 30 April 2009
I love this book. It is very interesting to read about the Amazonian tribe, fascinating to hear about people that live completely in the present and have no need for our knowledge, technology or God. I also enjoyed the description of their language - a language that can be spoken, hummed or even whistled. I have to admit though that I skipped the chapter about linguistic theroy.
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on 13 June 2014
I read this first as a library book not long after it came out and found it fascinating. My young son told me, rather to my surprise, that the Piraha pictured looked very happy.

I bought recently and read it for a second time. I was even more impressed this time round. The author writes with skill and intelligence. He clearly has a high opinion of himself as an expert in his field, and I share it.

Like another of my favourite extrovert authors, Bill Bryson, Everett is fascinated by language. I was absorbed by his description of the language and his summary of some of the main debates in linguistics and how his own findings challenge the language instinct theory championed by Chomsky. During the last reading I often tried to pronounce the Piraha words, with the high and low tones and the glottal stops (there is a useful clip on YouTube).

Most of the incidents were vivid in my memory from my first reading, for example the football match in the jungle, but a few aspects of the book only really hit me second time round, such as the Pirahas' sexual promiscuity. The theoretical arguments are another and even I, who have an interest, sometimes found it hard to sustain attention, particularly at night in bed. For me significant thing is that such expert theories (in this case argued so persuasively by Pinker in the Language Instinct), which seek to hold the whole of human life and experience in their thrall, are in the end little more than passing intellectual fashion, an "insubstantial pageant".

There are clips on-line of the author talking about his work. These confirmed the conclusion I had already long reached. In one lecture he jokes about belief in religion and the supernatural and quite a few members of the audience are heard laughing. The implication is clear: they know better. Now the author says that it was his dealings with the Piraha that led him to abandon his religion. This may well have contributed, but as an extrovert peer pressure from his academic colleagues and what are increasingly mainstream atheist views in the West would have been the main reason. (And he notes in the book that it had been a long time coming.)

I suppose the Pirahas are probably among the very last of the long line of noble savages who caught the imagination, from Caliban onwards, a yardstick against which we can measure our civilization (unlike an earlier commentator I won't use inverted commas for this word).

One final point. The Pirahas' culture of "immediacy of experience" (here the inverted commas are justified) reminded me of many, many people I have met.
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on 15 December 2009
This is a fascinating book with many strands:
- it's about a man's personal journey, his relationship with his family, with god, and the way his experiences change the way he feels.
- it's about linguistics - I have never studied linguistics, and much of the technical detail went over my head, but the basics were explained ckearly, and my lack of prior knowledge didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.
- it's about the sociology & psychology of a group of people very differnt from westeners in terms of beliefs, lifestyle, parenting, values. It's amazing to read about how very differently people can see the world.
A good read - well rcommended.
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on 4 February 2009
I bought this book as a present for a friend who has a son doing missionary work in Peru, having heard bits of it on Radio 4. Having now borrowed it back, I was fascinated to learn about a virtually unknown tribe and learning how different their life and attitude to life, the universe and everything differs from ours. I found the more technical parts on how the author struggled to learn their language from scratch more challenging, but it would be very useful for anyone interested in how a language unlike any other is constructed.
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on 5 October 2009
An amazing insight in the different ways there ae of being a human being. The author, a liguist and a Christian missionary, with his family, travelled to and lived among a remote Amazonian tribe,the Pirahas, with the object of learning their (very odd)language so that he could translate the Bible into it. It seems that he, and his missionary employees believed that they would, thereby, save the souls of the Pirahas. Many will wonder, as did this present reviewer, how anybody could think that this could be achieved with a people with a world-view and a language so utterly different from our own. As is revealed in the stunning concluding chapter, the author began to have his own doubts ...

To say that this is a work of anthropology and comparative linguistics, which technically it is, would be a turn-off for a book that is in fact an exciting adventure story and a fascinatng insight into human behaviour (both of the Pirahas and of the author)

It is a well-written, easy and absorbing read. Very highly reccommended.

John Sharp
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on 9 March 2009
Dan Everett has managed something quite rare for a writer covering a quite dense scientific subject and that is to make his book highly accessible, humorous and enlightening. I bought the book after hearing it serialised as BBC4's Book of the Week a few months ago and couldn't put it down.

The book offers both a thoroughly informative insight into the Pirahas Amazonian indians while at the same time chronicles the author's own trials and tribulations involved in adjusting to living in such a difficult environment with his young American family. I found the book a perfect balance between these two main areas and found that this mechanism has made a quite in-depth exploration of the linguistics and anthropology of this tribe into much more reader-friendly book. The book will also be quite an eye-opener for anyone who believes that humans have an innate "need" to believe in God or gods as the Pirahas have no creation myths in their culture at all. They appear to have evolved, due to their fantastically isolated habitat, completely in isolation and they have a language, culture and societal structure that is entirely unique. The book will make you reassess, with any luck, your existing moral framework when you realise that there is no such thing as moral absolutism. The reader will further find here irrefutable evidence for a functioning culture and society that is based on a totally alien set of rules and precepts. All in all then, a terrific book that will teach you lots of fascinating things in a fun way.
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