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War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage Paperback – 18 Dec 1997

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; Reprint edition (18 Dec. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195119126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195119121
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 1.5 x 13.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

The evidence that Mr. Keeley marshals is vivid, varied, and often complex. (The New York Times Book Review)

...Keeley is an engaging writer who provides excellent summaries on many topics. (American Anthropologist)

A sobering, grim, and important book. (Foreign Affairs)

About the Author

Lawrence H. Keeley is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has contributed articles to Scientific American and Nature, and has appeared in documentaries that have run on P.B.S., The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife and son.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting analysis of war in pre-urban, pre-industrial, "pre-civilised" society, which contained some lessons for those of us living in the urbanised, industrial "civilised" modern world as well. Using plenty of figures and charts, Keeley bins the notion that 'primitive' warfare was a bloodless affair involving a lot of shouting and not much killing. On the contrary, such conflicts were marked by extreme savagery, mutilation and merciless massacre of warriors and non-combatants alike. Keeley explains that this misconception is formed by post-War ideological pacifism and, by extension, one can also blame Western self-loathing. The assumption often made that peaceful primitives only became violent and bloodthirsty after contact with white colonialists is junked by evidence to the contrary dating back thousands of years, which anthropologists rationalise away with inevitably peaceful (and usually ludicrous) appeals to religion, ritual and culture.

Other interesting insights include the idea that societies that trade and intermarry with one another are more, not less, likely to go to war with each other, and that the bellicosity of a society is not related to its population density. Fear not, as many of the reasons why primitives, and less primitives, go to war are elucidated in this engaging and well-written book.

Keeley suffers fools badly, and he has some quite acidic comments to make about those with whom he disagrees. Whether the bile is amusing or not, whether it added to or subtracted from my appreciation of this book, I am not certain. That aside, I can recommend this book for those interested in the field of human conflict.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book which I would strongly recommend people to read. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it should be required reading for all high school students. The value of the book, is that it cuts through the romantic myths that we currently hold that before the evil Europeans turned up, mankind lived some kind of idyllic harmonious lifestyle. Everyone got along just fine apart from the occasional squabble which may have resulted in little more than a few bruised egos. Keeley is apparently an archaeologist and purely from the irrefutable evidence of the remains of pre civilisational skeletons with arrows embedded in them or their skull bashed in with axes, we can see that the idea of the "noble and peaceful savage" is little more than romantic wishful thinking with no supporting evidence or basis in fact.
Keeley further strengthens his case through case studies of ethnographers who studied people who had only recently met with the outside world. The tales these people tell of their past is not one of peace. In many, or in fact most, cases, there was an almost constant state of low level warfare which was extremely deadly by modern standards. Tribal bands cannot afford the luxury of such institutions as the Geneva Convention. They are forced to wage total, no holds bared war. Males are never taken prisoner (they can't build POW camps) and are therefore always dispatched if possible. Women and children are frequently killed, with the alternative being slavery.
The news is not all bad however and the author also debunks the condescending PC narrative of primitive people being helpless and passive victims of Western aggression.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An true eye opener regarding the 'noble savage' myth. It proves mankind was always engaged in warfare, no matter what era or location.
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Full of archaeological and historical data, interpreted in a very readable way. An excellent and insightful debunking of all-too-popular myths as well as a commentary on the history of warfare which many people will find most helpful background to other reading. Strongly recommended.
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