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The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture

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El propósito de esta original y sorprendente obra de Marvin Harris es dar respuesta a una serie de curiosos enigmas. ¿Por qué un tabú religioso prohibe a judios y musulmanes comer carne de cerdo? ¿Cuál es el motivo de que los hindúes adoren a las vacas? ¿ Por qué surgen los movimientos mesiánicos? ¿Cómo interpretar el machismo o la belicosidad de ciertas culturas? La estra El propósito de esta original y sorprendente obra de Marvin Harris es dar respuesta a una serie de curiosos enigmas. ¿Por qué un tabú religioso prohibe a judios y musulmanes comer carne de cerdo? ¿Cuál es el motivo de que los hindúes adoren a las vacas? ¿ Por qué surgen los movimientos mesiánicos? ¿Cómo interpretar el machismo o la belicosidad de ciertas culturas? La estrategia del investigador consiste, en este caso, en descubrir las causas materiales que se ocultan tras la aparente irracionalidad de los estilos de vida de las diversas formaciones culturales.


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El propósito de esta original y sorprendente obra de Marvin Harris es dar respuesta a una serie de curiosos enigmas. ¿Por qué un tabú religioso prohibe a judios y musulmanes comer carne de cerdo? ¿Cuál es el motivo de que los hindúes adoren a las vacas? ¿ Por qué surgen los movimientos mesiánicos? ¿Cómo interpretar el machismo o la belicosidad de ciertas culturas? La estra El propósito de esta original y sorprendente obra de Marvin Harris es dar respuesta a una serie de curiosos enigmas. ¿Por qué un tabú religioso prohibe a judios y musulmanes comer carne de cerdo? ¿Cuál es el motivo de que los hindúes adoren a las vacas? ¿ Por qué surgen los movimientos mesiánicos? ¿Cómo interpretar el machismo o la belicosidad de ciertas culturas? La estrategia del investigador consiste, en este caso, en descubrir las causas materiales que se ocultan tras la aparente irracionalidad de los estilos de vida de las diversas formaciones culturales.

30 review for The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!

    I'm still at the stage of 'review' to come. The book has immense depth over many disciplines, I just don't know how to condense it into a few paragraphs. Everyone should read it, everyone. The breadth of the author's explanation of the world enlarged mine immensely. The chapter on Jesus and messiahs has little to do with religion and much to do with history, the Romans, the times - the turmoil of one not-very-sophisticated culture butting up against a tremendously advanced, authoritarian and blo I'm still at the stage of 'review' to come. The book has immense depth over many disciplines, I just don't know how to condense it into a few paragraphs. Everyone should read it, everyone. The breadth of the author's explanation of the world enlarged mine immensely. The chapter on Jesus and messiahs has little to do with religion and much to do with history, the Romans, the times - the turmoil of one not-very-sophisticated culture butting up against a tremendously advanced, authoritarian and bloody regime. I do want to write a review because I think everyone should read the book, and I need to find a way to explain why, how everyone who reads will be enriched in their understanding of the world. ______________ Phenomenal! The last 10-star book of the year probably. The chapter on the historical Jesus from extant sources rather than gospels written many decades after Jesus' demise placing him as a historical figure and a reason for why he is called the messiah is brilliant. It's not going to please anyone who would denigrate or ignore all facts to maintain their unquestioning faith, but for those both Christian and not, it is really interesting. ____________________________________ "...[w]hy some people believe in Messiahs while others believe in witches." This really defines the book (so far). Why one culture does one thing and another a different one. I would rate this book a 10-star on the first chapter alone. In it the author explains why, in detail, in practical terms - that of the national economy, food production, and appropriate technology, just why cows are sacred in India. Genius to have worked it all out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    There are several reasons why I wasn't going to review this book. One, I am not an Anthropologist. I took some anthropology courses in college, but contrary to the opinions of some of the undeservedly arrogant, Newsies-hatted forever-virgin dudes in my Philosophy I course, that doesn't make me an expert or automatically mean anyone cares what I have to say (loudly, and with so much "ergo", so much "thusly") on the subject. Two, despite the fact that this book is slim, it is pretty much huge-mong There are several reasons why I wasn't going to review this book. One, I am not an Anthropologist. I took some anthropology courses in college, but contrary to the opinions of some of the undeservedly arrogant, Newsies-hatted forever-virgin dudes in my Philosophy I course, that doesn't make me an expert or automatically mean anyone cares what I have to say (loudly, and with so much "ergo", so much "thusly") on the subject. Two, despite the fact that this book is slim, it is pretty much huge-mongous-full as far as content is concerned, enough so that covering it all would require a much longer review than I assume pretty much anyone is willing to read. Two leads into three, the fact that leaving something out or (inevitably) explaining something insufficiently is basically like setting out a saucer of milk for the trolls. Given the argumentative stance of the author, and the fact that things like socioeconomics, cultural materialism, counter-culture v. science, and The Dreaded Religion Debate are directly addressed, and that I found myself generally agreeing with him on these matters, I am basically begging to be yelled at by strangers. And masochistic I am not. Then I thought "Hey, this is my little corner of the internet. I don't have to be an expert on the Yanomamo to publicly conclude that their culture is horrifyingly misogynistic and backwards any more than I have to be a published author before I can write a book review on goodreads." Stating overt disapproval of cultural practices which are at direct odds with basic Human Rights does not make you ethnocentric. Tracing spiritual beliefs and practices back to rational, pressing earthly concerns like food, land, and the perpetuation of the species does not make you the Antichrist. Non-believers like Marvin Harris and the differently-believing-from-you have every bit as much right as believers of various faiths do to study and discuss with authority any and all religious beliefs. Just ask Reza Aslan. I am going to attempt to outline some highlights of this book. Said outline will not encompass the entirety of the arguments set forth in this book, because this review is not the book, and I am not Marvin Harris. I've made it moderately clear where I stand in relation to Harris' views, and so will henceforth attempt to just be surgical, though opinions will most likely slip in to my summary because that's what they do. Please don't hit me. …even the most bizarre-seeming beliefs and practices turn out on closer inspection to be based on ordinary, banal, one might say "vulgar" conditions, needs, and activities. What I mean by a banal or vulgar solution is that it rests on the ground and that it is built up out of guts, sex, energy, wind, rain, and other palpable and ordinary phenomena. With that, Harris goes on to explore and link, amongst others, the following "riddles" of various cultural and spiritual practices around the world. Mother Cow: Why do Hindus have a spiritual ban on the consumption of cattle meat? Harris concludes: India is a family-farm based economic system with too high a population and too small an industrial infrastructure to support a meat-packing industry like we see in America. Many families have no more than a couple of cows, these being their mainstays, the sources of milk, energy (via their droppings), more cows, and power to plow their farms since tractors aren’t exactly falling from the sky. Even when a cow is dry or ill for seasons at a time, it would be certain death to the small-scale farmer to sell its meat for food, since there's still a chance of recovery and/or impregnation. If one were to go through India and swoop up all the "useless" cows in order to grind 'em up for food, a massive influx of farmers and their families would be forced into the already overburdened cities looking for work which simply does not exist at sufficient levels. The long-term result would be greater poverty and class division. A spiritual ban on cow consumption is basically an insurance policy that the lower-classes won't make the short-sighted decision to take their shit to the pawn shop. Pig Lovers and Pig Haters: Jews, Muslims, and early Christians adapted the view that swine is filthy and inconsumable due to pigs' similar, competing nutritional needs to humans. Given the arid terrain and constant movements inherent to the war-torn history of monotheism in the biblical Holy Lands, pig farming was impractical bordering on dangerous. On the opposite end of things, the Maring of Papua New Guinea have the appropriate climate for pig farming, and will breed them to excess for about a decade at a time, up to a point where they risk losing too much forest, at which time they will slaughter almost every single one in order to conduct a giant feast in search of tribal allies. Wars will be fought and lands will be conquered, leaving the tribes with new patches of forest for slash-and-burn farming. During the time that new farms are being set up and preparations made for the next great feast, the old farms will be granted a sufficient resting period so that they may be re-conquered and reused decades later. A religion-based truce is established during this time, guaranteeing that the cycle is allowed to continue unabated, to the benefit of all. Potlatch: The Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island were known to conduct a sort of ceremony referred to as "potlatch", in which tribal elders competed with one another to show off their wealth and greatness by giving it away to the competition. Coming from different pockets of land with varying animal life and naturally limited huntable populations, this constant back and forth chest-puffing pretty much guaranteed not only that resources would not be drained from certain areas, but also that a trade system would be established creating a healthier and more versatile diet, as one elder may show his wealth in animal furs and meats, while the other may use foraged fruits, vegetables, and dried fish. A natural cycle coinciding with the seasons is additionally created, ensuring consumables year-round. Messiahs/The Prince of Peace: Probably the most controversial sections of the book concern themselves with the roots of military-messianic beliefs and the eventual adoption of a non-violent spiritual figurehead, i.e. Jesus Christ. Harris argues that constant warfare between pockets of ostracized Jewish people and the all-powerful Romans led to the embracing of multiple warlord Messiahs who manifested themselves as means to rally soldiers to fight for land and goods being taxed from under them by their pagan oppressors. Harris believes that the non-violent Christ figure later embraced by Christianity was actually just such a militaristic messiah, and that his modified image was an attempt on the part of some Jewish peoples to separate themselves from the violent rebels in order to avoid direct conflict with the Romans. I could go on and on about these thought-provoking sections, but damn this review is already sooo long, and these chapters are definitely the meatiest of the bunch. If nothing else, I recommend at least checking out this chunk of the book. Broomsticks and Sabbats/The Great Witch Craze: Basically, the argument here is that witches were used, particularly throughout The Inquisition, as a means to create* a sort of spiritual scapegoat for the ills of the time, in order to save the Catholic Church/State from blame for crop-failures, severe weather, over-taxation, large-scale class division, etc. The Church created an Evil Force which only it could conquer, thus terrorizing the impoverished masses into distraction from the real source of their various sufferings: The Church. That doesn't sound familiar at all, right? You absolutely could not look back on history with this framework and replace the word "Witch" with: Jew, Gay, Democrat, Terrorist, Atheist, Immigrant, Pro-Choicer, Communist, etc, etc, etc. Smokescreens by resourceful magicians. Add to that confessions elicited through torture, and you have yourself quite the patsy. *I say "create" despite the fact that there probably were cases of people who believed themselves to be witches who traveled on broomsticks to Sabbats. Harris explains why this belief may have existed, and where the broomstick thing came from: Trippy Dildos. Basically, a psychedelic herbal concoction similar to the one used by Carlos Castaneda was applied to a stick and vaginally inserted for maximum and more immediate effects. Yes, some of these ladies "traveled to Sabbats" much like so many of the more experimental people I've known have had stimulating English language conversations with their pets. Meaning they didn't. The final bits of the book deal with counter-culture's embrace of pseudo-science and Eastern spirituality, of defiance of the scientific method in favor of internal transcendentalism. Given that Harris wrote this book in 1974, he does come off a bit "damned hippies" bitter, though his point still holds water. To say that political and social responsibilities are transient, superfluous earthly matters, and that changing the way you thiiiink maaaaan insiiide yourself about yourseeeelf maaan is all it takes to exist in the world in a meaningful way, is beyond just missing the point. To him, the counter-culture movement is and was just another manifestation of spirituality ruling out in favor of rationality, and that the rejection of science when it comes to human behavior, particularly through blanket cultural relativism, is dangerous and irresponsible for all concerned. And that is a "summary" of Marvin Harris' book. Whether you agree or disagree with Harris' stance, you will still find so much fascinating information here which begs for additional reading, I promisepromise you that. Side note: what's up with the Harrises and their reason and their science and their non-religious stances? Sam Harris, Marvin Harris. It's Harris-y! Badum-chiiii. If you read this entire review, you are a fucking saint and I love you forever, even if you're about to leave a really mean comment. Also, sorry.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Why do Jews and Muslims refuse to eat pork? Why were thousands of witches burned at the stake during late medieval Europe? These and other riddles are explored by famous anthropologist Marvin Harris, and his conclusions are simple: people act within social and ecological contexts that make their actions meaningful. Put another way: cultural ideas and practices that seem strange to us may actually be vital and necessary to the people of those cultures. Harris is especially good at explaining how s Why do Jews and Muslims refuse to eat pork? Why were thousands of witches burned at the stake during late medieval Europe? These and other riddles are explored by famous anthropologist Marvin Harris, and his conclusions are simple: people act within social and ecological contexts that make their actions meaningful. Put another way: cultural ideas and practices that seem strange to us may actually be vital and necessary to the people of those cultures. Harris is especially good at explaining how societies create elaborate rituals to avoid harming the natural ecosystems they depend on, which clarifies the Middle Eastern ban on pig products. It turns out the chubby animals compete with humans for the same foods. Raising them in large numbers would place great strain a land made fragile by thousands of years of deforestation and desertification. Better to ban them entirely and not risk further ecological damage. This logic is then extended to elucidate why the institution of warfare probably first arose in areas where it's difficult to feed large numbers of people. In Harris' words, "In most primitive societies, warfare is an effective means of population control because intense, recurring intergroup combat places a premium upon rearing male rather than female infants." Since the rate of population growth depends on the number of healthy women, privileging males by making their larger bodies necessary for combat is a way of reducing the pressure to "eat the forest." Not that male supremacy and violence is the BEST way to reduce population, just that it's one ritual societies have adapted to meet that goal. This discussion of patriarchy leads to an exploration of class. The emergence of "big men", chiefs, and finally the State is explained as a cascading distortion of the original principles of reciprocity into the rule of redistribution. "Big men" work harder than anyone in their tribe to provide a large feast for their community - with the only goal being prestige. Chiefs similarly pursue prestige, and plan great feasts to show off their managerial skills, but they themselves harvest little food. Finally "we end up with state-level societies ruled over by hereditary kings who perform no basic industrial or agricultural labor and who keep the most and best of everything for themselves." At the root of this construction of inequality is the impetus to make people work harder to create larger surpluses so that greater social rewards can be given out to show off the leader's generosity. But only at the State or Imperial level is this hierarchy enforced not by prestige but by force of arms, to stop the poor and working classes from revolting and sharing the fruits of their labor. The most provocative sections of the book deal with revolutionary movements that fought for this liberation, within the context of the religious wars of Biblical Judea and Late Medieval Europe. First, Harris tackles the Messiah complex by showing that Jews around the time of Jesus waged near-constant guerrilla warfare against their Roman rulers and oppressors. Perhaps half a million people died, in probably hundreds of Jewish uprisings, all led by religious insurgents called Messiahs. Whether Jesus was one of these revolutionary warriors is disputed, but Harris argues that the "peaceful messiah" idea only gained prominence later during Roman backlash, as a way to distinguish between the "harmless" Christians and the rebellious Jews. Later on, when Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, its emphasis shifted once more to be compatible with evangelizing the largest military on Earth as it colonized the Mediterranean and killed insurgents. Christianity would come full circle and provide the ideological backing for revolutionary movements against the dominant social order of Europe during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. At the time feudalism was in crisis and huge peasant movements like the Anabaptists, led by messiah-like zealots, were gaining large followings against their noble and clergy overlords. These Christian messiahs called for breaking up large land estates and providing for the poor masses, suffering from unnecessary poverty and disease. The threatened defenders of Church and State needed some kind of distraction to be cooked up to divide the population, while authorizing to executions of revolutionary leaders (who were mostly female). Witchcraft fit the bill nicely. With the Pope's approval, the accusation, torture, and execution of hundreds of thousands of "witches" effectively disrupted the enormous peasant movements and brought legitimacy to the forces of law and order. Harris explains, "The clergy and nobility emerged as the great protectors of mankind against an enemy who was omnipresent but difficult to detect. Here at last was a reason to pay tithes and obey the tax collector." If this crackdown on an invented evil parallels the spectre of "terrorism" today and the war on anti-American Islamist movements, then perhaps Marvin Harris' effort to explain the seemingly insoluble mysteries of distant cultures can also come full circle to help us make sense of our own society. If Washington is the new Rome, then who are the new messiahs? Or, in a secular sense, who are the people concerned for the poor majority that suffers unnecessarily in our own time?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    Marvin Harris intends to apply scientific theory to some of the great cultural riddles of the world. Why do Hindus love cows? Why do Jews hate pigs? Unfortunately, like an evolutionary biologist trying to explain why humans have pinky toes, he comes across as making up just-so stories. The theories are plausible, but that doesn't make them accurate. The truth in a just-so story is always in what it tells us about the storyteller. In this case, he's a 1970s academic. One more thing: Since I'm not Marvin Harris intends to apply scientific theory to some of the great cultural riddles of the world. Why do Hindus love cows? Why do Jews hate pigs? Unfortunately, like an evolutionary biologist trying to explain why humans have pinky toes, he comes across as making up just-so stories. The theories are plausible, but that doesn't make them accurate. The truth in a just-so story is always in what it tells us about the storyteller. In this case, he's a 1970s academic. One more thing: Since I'm not an expert on all matter historical, I usually factcheck history books by spot-checking the stuff I do know. If Marvin Harris's account of the religious landscape of first century Palestine is any indication, then his historical research was pretty shoddy. His "proof" that Jesus was really a warrior messiah is abysmally threadbare -- four verses from the Gospels, two of which he apparently doesn't realize are parallel synoptic accounts. I'm giving this book three stars because it kept me entertained, and gave some interesting ideas to chew on. However, I wouldn't go to it as a foundation for my philosophy or anthropology.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John David

    Civilizations, even the most advanced among them, are invariably strewn with mythologies, folklore, and recherche taboo. While the contemporary United States would itself provide enough material for a multi-volume study of this kind, Marvin Harris focuses mostly on pre-scientific and pre-literate peoples to answer questions like: Why do Hindus not eat cows, while Jews avoid pork instead? How do you explain the concept of the Messiah? Why was the belief in witches in medieval Europe so prevalent, Civilizations, even the most advanced among them, are invariably strewn with mythologies, folklore, and recherche taboo. While the contemporary United States would itself provide enough material for a multi-volume study of this kind, Marvin Harris focuses mostly on pre-scientific and pre-literate peoples to answer questions like: Why do Hindus not eat cows, while Jews avoid pork instead? How do you explain the concept of the Messiah? Why was the belief in witches in medieval Europe so prevalent, and why were people so afraid of them? These bald facts have received many anthropological and sociological explanations in the past, including the one that suggests that they are simply irreducible and, therefore, unable to be analyzed. But Harris, a Marxist by conviction, necessarily must see a materialistic explanation. He looks for answers to these questions in the everyday lives and concerns of the people that entertain these beliefs. Because of this, his answers, in most instances, seem to have some bit more explanatory force than those that have preceded him. According to Harris, the reason why we see Hindu “cow love” (his words, not mine) as odd is because we live in a very fundamentally different position with respect to cows in our day-to-day postindustrial lives. No matter the exigencies or problems in the lives of the market or our family, we can always go to the grocery story and purchase milk, butter, and meat all from a cow. However, Hindus (and he is mostly talking about Indian Hindus here) have acquired the need for an adaptive resilience in its agricultural order that we have long since shed our need for. Hundreds of millions of Indian peasants who have only one cow know that animal as the only source of milk to make it through a dry season. And if they are lucky enough to make it, it is the only thing that can pull a plow once it is time to plant or harvest crops. In short, because of the way their economy is localized around the family unit instead of our food-industrial complex, they place a different value on the cow. Another topic Harris considers is the first-century Palestinian Judaism with its concomitant messianism. The history of this period, mainly through Josephus’ two reliable books “Jewish Antiquities” and “Bellum Judaicum,” informs us that Jesus was not unique in having the mantle of the Messiah. Between 40 B. C. and 73 A. D., Harris mentions Athrongaeus, Theudas, an “anonymous scoundrel” executed by Felix, a Jewish Egyptian “false prophet,” and Manahem. Josephus was so used to this political apocalypticism that there are even more of these figures that he does not even bother to name. A long line of Jews fashioned themselves as restorers of the Jewish state and wished to free it from the caprice of Roman satraps, with Jesus and John the Baptist being the two whose names have survived the ravages of history. Harris’ explanation of witchcraft is appealingly commonsensical. During the early middle ages, witchcraft was not especially looked highly upon, but was never considered heretical. Over time, the Church found that they could use these beliefs to scapegoat hailstorms, outbreaks of disease, crop failure, and other ominous signs, therefore stopping people before they reached the heterodox conclusion that God might be involved in all of these negative circumstances, too. Instead of the Catholic Church wishing to root witches out of society, they used the common folkloric beliefs in sorcery to the Church’s advantage. By co-opting sorcery as a heresy, the Church was able to blame the evils of society on its more marginal, “lower” members, while at the same time seeming to want to keep both the Church and society pure. Two birds with one stone! I can certainly appreciate the broad appeal a book like this has for non-specialists and non-scholars. That having been said, if I could change one thing about this book, it would be that Harris had taken a less flippant approach and more fully fleshed out his sources, or had a full bibliography. Off-the-cuff expressions like “cow love” and “pig hate” really tend to draw away from the authority that Harris has proven through his other work he rightly deserves.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lukas op de Beke

    I learned so much from this book. Next time, I'll think twice before I condemn some foreign cultural practice as inane or irrational. Harris shows how some of the most outlandish cultural phenomena are rooted in very powerful material causes and may provide all sorts of invisible material benefits to society. Harris also offers a very interesting and meticulously constructed back-story for Jesus of Nazareth, a story according to which he is not the peaceful figure he has been made out to be by t I learned so much from this book. Next time, I'll think twice before I condemn some foreign cultural practice as inane or irrational. Harris shows how some of the most outlandish cultural phenomena are rooted in very powerful material causes and may provide all sorts of invisible material benefits to society. Harris also offers a very interesting and meticulously constructed back-story for Jesus of Nazareth, a story according to which he is not the peaceful figure he has been made out to be by the early Churchmen. And for the witch hunts to be a devious divide et impera strategy by the Catholic Church, who would have thought?

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Gross

    Cows are inefficiently raised and devoured in the United States, while in India, people would rather go hungry than eat cow flesh. In the Jewish and Moslem tradition, pigs are unclean and cannot be consumed; while in others, gargantuan pig feasts are more holy than the Thanksgiving turkey. Is this just part of the inexplicable side of human nature, or are there understandable reasons for these cultural curiosities? Harris shows that these bizarre displays of cultural variety play an important an Cows are inefficiently raised and devoured in the United States, while in India, people would rather go hungry than eat cow flesh. In the Jewish and Moslem tradition, pigs are unclean and cannot be consumed; while in others, gargantuan pig feasts are more holy than the Thanksgiving turkey. Is this just part of the inexplicable side of human nature, or are there understandable reasons for these cultural curiosities? Harris shows that these bizarre displays of cultural variety play an important and understandable role in the cultures’ environments.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most though-provoking and fascinating cultural studies I've ever read. Everyone should have a few horizon-wideners on their book list -- this should be one of them. Unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most though-provoking and fascinating cultural studies I've ever read. Everyone should have a few horizon-wideners on their book list -- this should be one of them.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marty Fried

    Not sure what to think of this book overall, but I give it points for some out-of-the-box thinking, and several insights mixed in with some of the boredom. It started out really promising, with a look at why India's sacred cow makes sense. He tells that story in a way that shows eating cows would be a bad idea for them at that time. He then goes into why he thinks the Semitic people don't eat pigs, and that made perfect sense. I always thought it had to do with health reasons if you don't cook th Not sure what to think of this book overall, but I give it points for some out-of-the-box thinking, and several insights mixed in with some of the boredom. It started out really promising, with a look at why India's sacred cow makes sense. He tells that story in a way that shows eating cows would be a bad idea for them at that time. He then goes into why he thinks the Semitic people don't eat pigs, and that made perfect sense. I always thought it had to do with health reasons if you don't cook the meat well, but other meat is also dangerous if you don't cook it. But in those days, the people were nomadic, and sheep were well-suited to a nomadic lifestyle, but pigs would be competing with humans for food. Also, as far as cleanliness of pigs, they do well as long as the temperatures are not too hot, but when it gets hot, they will roll around in their own poop to keep cool. I guess the deserts were too warm for them. Then he tells about places where pigs were loved, and people had events where they ate as much as they could. They would save up for years to get a surplus, then eat most of them all at once. This is where the book started getting a bit strange and hard to follow. He then went into the religious goings on from BC to AD, then on to witches. But he began to lose credibility when he got to modern times, and talked about the 60s counterculture, which he seemed to think was really stupid. Also, he seemed to place a lot of importance of Carlos Castañeda's books about Don Juan, whereas I think most of us just thought it was an interesting book on a different culture that also used psychedelics, but we didn't take it seriously. The author seemed to think otherwise. He starts off the section with this explanation: A central aspect of counter-culture is the belief that consciousness controls history. People are what goes on in their minds; to make them better, all you have to do is give them better ideas. Objective conditions count for little. The entire world is to be altered as a result of a “revolution in consciousness.” All we need do to stop crime, end poverty, beautify cities, eliminate war, live in peace and harmony with ourselves and nature, is to open our minds to Consciousness III. “Consciousness is prior to structure … The whole corporate state rests on nothing but consciousness.” In the counter-culture, consciousness is stimulated and made aware of its untapped potential. Counter-culture people take journeys—“head trips”—to broaden their minds. They use pot, LSD, or mushrooms “to get their heads together.” They rap, encounter, or chant in order to “freak out” with Jesus, Buddha, Mao Tse-tung. "Freak out" with Jesus? Buddha? Mao? I don't know about that. I lived through those times, and I guess there were people like that (still are), but I never saw this as a predominant quality of the whole movement. Perhaps I missed it. Anyway, after reading this part, I began to have second thoughts about the validity of some of his other facts and opinions.

  10. 4 out of 5

    thethousanderclub

    One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone. He said: "Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone. He said: "Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on how we approach procreation and moral issues. All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is 'cool.'" I am fascinated by culture, the own I am a part of and the various ones around the world and throughout history. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris is a book written just for me. All of the books I have read that have dealt with culture in one way or another, whether that be The Hero with a Thousand Faces or People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, has had enough interesting things to say that I felt they were worth reading, even if I didn't agree with some portions of them. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches falls in that same category--interesting, thoughtful, sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, in my opinion. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches selectively explains, but the author purposefully mentions his intent is not to explain everything, a few cultural attributes that existed in the world at different periods of time and attempts to give a reasonable and rational reason for their being a part of the culture. Harris does this with a fine academic mind and from a secular perspective. More often than thought, I was able to follow the author's reasoning and understand, at least, the conclusions he came to and how he got there. At other times, such as his explanation of the true character and history of Jesus Christ, left me scratching my head. I have read the New Testament four times, and I was highly skeptical of some of Harris's interpretations and conjectures. There is plenty here to discuss and debate. The book ends with a commentary on the culture of Harris's time, which was several decades ago, that took some of the momentum away from the book since it was so topical for the time it was written but no so much today. I enjoyed Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches because it gave me plenty to think about. It also proved to me, once again, how much we don't know as opposed to how much we do. Culture is deviously complicated, but Marvin Harris's attempt to explain it is interesting enough to be read. http://thethousanderclub.blogspot.com/

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ivonne Rovira

    Today, while lamenting the sidelining of fiction in favor of informational texts to the exclusion of just about anything else in English classes with a friend, I mentioned that no one had ever learned to love to read by reading a textbook. However, I had to immediately correct myself by adding "except for Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches and The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo's Telescope Changed the Truth." I read Marvin Harris' scintillating book in 1978. Although an accessible paperback desi Today, while lamenting the sidelining of fiction in favor of informational texts to the exclusion of just about anything else in English classes with a friend, I mentioned that no one had ever learned to love to read by reading a textbook. However, I had to immediately correct myself by adding "except for Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches and The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo's Telescope Changed the Truth." I read Marvin Harris' scintillating book in 1978. Although an accessible paperback designed for a general readership, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches provided a fabulous text for my sociology class on how abstruse actions by other cultures are not quite so inexplicable once you understand the culture. Despite being first published in 1978, it's as fresh as it was when the late Harris, then a professor at Columbia University, released it. While Westerners like to lord it over the unthinking wogs, Harris provides examples on how facile that attitude can be. For example, protecting cows and letting them wander makes sense in an impoverished India where bovines provide street cleaning by eating compostable garbage, their dung makes cheap cement, and their milk will always be available since the temptation to slaughter them for their meat is checked. But the book isn't a stern polemic; rather, Harris presents the material in a charming and often humorous manner. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches proves as riveting as a whodunit or one of the new YA adventure tales. The reader will forget s/he's reading what was for many years a sociology and anthropology text and instead think s/he's stumbled on a travelogue crossed with The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bookwormdragon

    This book is required reading for my Political Science 101 class, and for once a professor has managed to select an interesting book. This is an interesting look at some of the cultural riddles that tend to mystify Westerners - like Cow Love in India, Pig Hate in the Middle East, Cargo Cults, etc. Harris explains how these seemingly ridiculous (to us) behaviors are actually perfectly sensible and successful adaption strategies. A short and pleasant read, well researched and written. I highly rec This book is required reading for my Political Science 101 class, and for once a professor has managed to select an interesting book. This is an interesting look at some of the cultural riddles that tend to mystify Westerners - like Cow Love in India, Pig Hate in the Middle East, Cargo Cults, etc. Harris explains how these seemingly ridiculous (to us) behaviors are actually perfectly sensible and successful adaption strategies. A short and pleasant read, well researched and written. I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in cultural adaptation strategies or just cultures in general.

  13. 5 out of 5

    miaaa

    The never ending questions occurred in our society daily lives, from traditions to urban legends maybe. But instead of shushing people to question why, it is a good idea to talk about them. They're part of what making the societies anyway. Interesting book, opening further questions but well maybe we will find the answers one day. Or never. The never ending questions occurred in our society daily lives, from traditions to urban legends maybe. But instead of shushing people to question why, it is a good idea to talk about them. They're part of what making the societies anyway. Interesting book, opening further questions but well maybe we will find the answers one day. Or never.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Josie

    I liked this book very much because it is written really well and it explains some very strange concepts,,, i learned many bizarre facts from it that i can mansplain to other people now which is very exciting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Cow, Pigs, Wars and Witches is an interesting book on anthropology that attempts to make sense of things like the Hindu reverence for cows, Jewish prohibitions on swine flesh, tribes that burned goods in a show of wealth, cargo cults and the like. I wasn’t convinced, though. The author, Marvin Harris, argues that each of these oddities – and many others discussed in the book – arose as a means for the culture involved to adjust to its specific ecological surroundings, sometimes to preserve the c Cow, Pigs, Wars and Witches is an interesting book on anthropology that attempts to make sense of things like the Hindu reverence for cows, Jewish prohibitions on swine flesh, tribes that burned goods in a show of wealth, cargo cults and the like. I wasn’t convinced, though. The author, Marvin Harris, argues that each of these oddities – and many others discussed in the book – arose as a means for the culture involved to adjust to its specific ecological surroundings, sometimes to preserve the current conditions, and sometimes to adjust to conditions the culture had previously failed to preserve. His explanations of how each of these things does that are all very elegant, and make some sense. But they’re just too neat, and sometimes seem circular. The “big man” explanation, for example, accounts for means of preserving the ecology, ways of adjusting for failure to preserve the ecology, and ways of spurring trade in an ever-changing ecology. Likewise violence and warfare. Maybe instead warfare and the urge to be the “big man” are simply human tendencies? This book was recommended to me by an atheist who assured me this had something to do with proving Christianity false. For most of the book I had no idea how this related to our dispute. But there are two chapters late in the book that I guess were his “case.” In the chapter “Messiahs” Harris points out that there were several “Messiah” candidates at or around the time of Jesus, and that the Jewish religion had long called out for a type of Messiah, a successor to King David. He ties this urge to the cargo cults of the Pacific islands (not historically but ideally) claiming that like the cargo cults that continue to expect the “return of the cargo bringers” the Jews expected the return of a Davidic military master who would redeem Israel. Well, I suppose. I don’t really have a quibble with the idea that there is some resemblance. But in this chapter Harris makes a couple of errors about Jewish thought that surprised me, but in fact foreshadowed his ignorance which was displayed in more detail in the following chapter. Those errors are that the Jews expected – at the time of Christ – a “god who would look like a man” (p. 156). Not a chance. The Jews expected a military leader, but never would they have expected this leader to be “a” god – because there are no other gods – nor would they have expected him to be THE God as a man in the flesh. The second error is semantic. Harris points out that David was called “messiah.” Which he was, for a reason I’ll explain in a moment. Within a sentence or two, Harris then exclaims as if it is a surprise, that David was “also called the Anointed One.” (p. 157) Also? Messiah MEANS anointed one. Kings were called Messiah because they were anointed with oil upon taking the throne. Harris doesn’t know this simple fact? Very odd, I thought, for someone ignorant of that little tidbit to be writing on this subject. But it gets worse. In the chapter “The Secret of the Prince of Peace” Harris asserts that Jesus was a militant messiah like all the others, and that all of the non-militant statements in the Gospels were added after the fall of Jerusalem by Christians to convince the Romans that they were a nice peaceful sect, not like those bad Jewish renegades the Romans had just crushed. That should really be sufficient reason to toss out this chapter, but let’s continue. He asserts that Peter was a follower of John the Baptist – he was not – and that John’s message was of military conquest, for which I know of no evidence. His whole case here seems to be the notion that because John said the messiah would baptize with fire, that that meant military conquest. Seems weak. Next, Harris asserts that the Gospels contain some of those odd possibly militant-seeming statements – “let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” – for instance, or the event of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple, because these events were well known among the faithful and attested to by eyewitnesses, some of whom may still have been around at the time date of writing. (Let’s set aside the fact that current scholarship seems to have pushed the writing of Mark, Luke and Matthew, and perhaps even John, as prior to AD 70, the destruction of the Jewish Temple.) My question is, if eyewitnesses and their students were checking these documents to make sure the militant events and sayings were included, why weren’t they also checking and objecting to the non-militant events and sayings? Harris’ procedure makes no sense. Eyewitnesses who demanded including the militant stuff would have also objected to the non-militant stuff if it were false, seems to me. There are other small factual errors – the coin which Jesus said should be rendered unto Caesar was Caesar’s because it had his insignia on it – there is no evidence that the Jerusalem church regarded gentile converts as inferior to Jewish converts – the Jesus movement grew for 30-plus years before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 – an oddity that Harris can’t explain if Jesus were understood by his followers to be a defeated military messiah – and others. But most odd is his insistence that the Gospels contain no evidence that Jesus intended to “scrap the distinction” between Jew and Gentile in the coming kingdom. Nonsense. Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, his interaction with the faithful Roman centurion, and – literally last, and certainly not least – the Great Commission to convert the entire world all belie Harris’ claim. So I guess my atheist friend’s suggestion didn’t take. But I tried. Finally, and oddly, at the end Harris has a couple chapters lamenting “the return of the witch” – the reinvigoration of anti-rationality (and rejection of objective science) and of the belief that what one believes shapes objective reality. Well, when you tossed out Christianity, what did you think would replace it, Mr Harris? As G. K. Chesterton famously never said (but should have) “He who does not believe in God will believe in anything.”

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emre Sevinç

    All those religious traditions that seem utterly stupid, confounding, and sometimes surprising as well as the events in history such as 'witchcraft' whose root causes we generally don't know, is the main topic of this book. What a book such a motivation makes! I won't give any spoilers but I want to say, if such a strong ambition to search for truth doesn't deserve respect, then I don't what does. After so many years, I've yet to come across such a book, and I keep on seeing Marvin Harris as a m All those religious traditions that seem utterly stupid, confounding, and sometimes surprising as well as the events in history such as 'witchcraft' whose root causes we generally don't know, is the main topic of this book. What a book such a motivation makes! I won't give any spoilers but I want to say, if such a strong ambition to search for truth doesn't deserve respect, then I don't what does. After so many years, I've yet to come across such a book, and I keep on seeing Marvin Harris as a modern Sherlock Holmes on a grand scale. Grand in its efforts on a both geographical and temporal scale.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mustika Ridwan

    Finally finish this! The first anthropological book I read. Very interesting to see how cultures changes over time and exploring the possibilities of why it has happened in the first place. How middle east hates pig and Indian praises cows are explained in a easy way for us to understand.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alaine

    Someone recommended this to me when I first went back to school -- eight years ago! I was originally majoring in cultural anthropology. That came to an end when I realized I wasn't extroverted enough. Anyway, this book has been sitting on my "to read" list all this time. I finally checked it out. And it turns out I have no interest in reading it, at all. I can't get into the writing style, and reading a 43-year-old anthro book doesn't appeal to me. Someone recommended this to me when I first went back to school -- eight years ago! I was originally majoring in cultural anthropology. That came to an end when I realized I wasn't extroverted enough. Anyway, this book has been sitting on my "to read" list all this time. I finally checked it out. And it turns out I have no interest in reading it, at all. I can't get into the writing style, and reading a 43-year-old anthro book doesn't appeal to me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Noyara

    I indeed have no anthropology background at all. This book left such impression on me since it offers one way to understand the often-seem-nonsense cultures of people in the other parts of the world. Marvin Harris' explanations are all plausible, but one could also disagree with him. All I know is that the author explains the culture using the concept claimed as his expertise. And for me, they make senses, for most of the part. I indeed have no anthropology background at all. This book left such impression on me since it offers one way to understand the often-seem-nonsense cultures of people in the other parts of the world. Marvin Harris' explanations are all plausible, but one could also disagree with him. All I know is that the author explains the culture using the concept claimed as his expertise. And for me, they make senses, for most of the part.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bahi Ashraf

    oh I thought I already wrote this

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paige McLoughlin

    I read this a long time ago. Most of it using anthropological and geographical lenses explains a lot of ritual, custom, and taboo that are not arbitrary but instead practical innovations of a particular time and place. Good stuff. Will have to pick it up again sometime.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marly Beck

    Excellent book that surprises you at the ending with its radical anti-establishment tones. It is a great read to get oneself warmed up in anthropology books and acquire quite a few cocktail conversation tidbits in the meantime. It is a bit outdated, but I don't think that takes away from the quality of the book's information too much. Excellent book that surprises you at the ending with its radical anti-establishment tones. It is a great read to get oneself warmed up in anthropology books and acquire quite a few cocktail conversation tidbits in the meantime. It is a bit outdated, but I don't think that takes away from the quality of the book's information too much.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gibran

    It is a classic of anthropology -written just before the era when Anthropology begun a period of self-criticism and reflection on the field. The book departs from the assumption that any cultural or spiritual practice/belief can be explained on the basis of the material, resource, power and population relationships. In a way, the book states that -as strange as they appear- social practices are an intricate, wise & often not obvious measures to survive. The book goes through case studies: Sacred It is a classic of anthropology -written just before the era when Anthropology begun a period of self-criticism and reflection on the field. The book departs from the assumption that any cultural or spiritual practice/belief can be explained on the basis of the material, resource, power and population relationships. In a way, the book states that -as strange as they appear- social practices are an intricate, wise & often not obvious measures to survive. The book goes through case studies: Sacred cows in India, forbidden pigs in the middle-east religions, the cargo prophecies of South Pacific, witch persecution in Europe and the messiahs of the middle east. I can summarize as a materialistic cause-effect approach to human behavior. On a way reductionist, on the other hand it challenges us to think beyond answers such as "humans sometimes behave in irrational ways" or "nonsensical beliefs rule our society". For Marvin Harris, everything has a logical explanation, based on the material world, if we look deep enough. This very fruitful for understanding power-structures and social raids, but a dead-end when trying to understand mystical practices such as shamanism and indigenous knowledge.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    I picked this up again last week and enjoyed it greatly. Harris does great job of describing the material bases for numerous cultural phenomena, beginning with the sacred cows of Hinduism, and moving on through the roots of the worship and hatred of pigs, messianic military leadership and Christianity, to witchcraft, anti-witch pogroms, and the counter-culture. Something I really enjoyed about Harris' voice in this book is the sense of barely contained anger that imbues it. The main thing Harris I picked this up again last week and enjoyed it greatly. Harris does great job of describing the material bases for numerous cultural phenomena, beginning with the sacred cows of Hinduism, and moving on through the roots of the worship and hatred of pigs, messianic military leadership and Christianity, to witchcraft, anti-witch pogroms, and the counter-culture. Something I really enjoyed about Harris' voice in this book is the sense of barely contained anger that imbues it. The main thing Harris is trying to do here is to describe how certain elements of culture, which may at first glance seem not to make practical or economic sense, turn out to have functions deeply rooted either in ecology and a relationship with the land, or in an adaptive relationship to power. In his analysis, long-term cultural frameworks inhabited by humans are creations of forces outside of morality and personal choice- they've been formed by time and extremity. Fascinating stuff, definitely worth reading for anyone interested in what is and isn't possible to accomplish in terms of social change.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Junnifer

    Very interesting and engaging read until the last couple of chapters. Wouldn't have easily guessed this was written in the mid 1970s until later on. Marvin Harris makes pretty plausible explanations for many cultural norms such as why the cow is holy in India and why certain cultures/religions don't touch pork while others revere its consumption. I am all for anchoring behavioral phenomenon in practical roots, and that's what Harris does really well in the first few chapters where he breaks down Very interesting and engaging read until the last couple of chapters. Wouldn't have easily guessed this was written in the mid 1970s until later on. Marvin Harris makes pretty plausible explanations for many cultural norms such as why the cow is holy in India and why certain cultures/religions don't touch pork while others revere its consumption. I am all for anchoring behavioral phenomenon in practical roots, and that's what Harris does really well in the first few chapters where he breaks down his explanation of each phenomenon. The last few chapters, however, feel like a critical rant by an academic (and he certainly was one) who's gotten on his high horse, gone on a too-smart-for-anyone-but-himself smug tangent, and lost the thread and the reader altogether. If I hadn't read the last few chapters, I'd have said this was 4.5 stars. Having persevered through the last few chapters despite their sudden left turn in tone and focus, I would say 3.5 stars, as it almost negates the delight of the preceding chapters to know all that was just a set up for this opinionated rant.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fox

    What an entertaining book. While I don't agree with all of Marvin Harris' conclusions, I can say that the scientific way that he approaches problems typically viewed only in a just-so light was both informative and fascinating. His precise evaluation of each question was both thorough and scientific and offers much to anyone fascinated in anthropological (or even political) theory. While the author is very much the product of the time in which the book was written (the 1970's) the methods that ma What an entertaining book. While I don't agree with all of Marvin Harris' conclusions, I can say that the scientific way that he approaches problems typically viewed only in a just-so light was both informative and fascinating. His precise evaluation of each question was both thorough and scientific and offers much to anyone fascinated in anthropological (or even political) theory. While the author is very much the product of the time in which the book was written (the 1970's) the methods that mark his conclusions are a very good introduction to a new way of thinking, and one not often enough used by many laypeople.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olga Frolova

    For me the language was quite difficult to comprehend 100%. I will definitely re-read it if I see a version in Russian. The best part for me was the one analyzing witches, with its great perspective on the medieval world and its connection with 1970s hippie culture. I’ve never let myself think about witches as real characters to be honest, and the anthropological aspect turned to be amazing. Also the story of poor native New Guineans being introduced to Christianity is just shocking. It’s a must t For me the language was quite difficult to comprehend 100%. I will definitely re-read it if I see a version in Russian. The best part for me was the one analyzing witches, with its great perspective on the medieval world and its connection with 1970s hippie culture. I’ve never let myself think about witches as real characters to be honest, and the anthropological aspect turned to be amazing. Also the story of poor native New Guineans being introduced to Christianity is just shocking. It’s a must to go to the museum of Jacques Shirak after reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    A very fascinating read. I really like the author's perspective that cultural behavior can be explained by real and concrete things. Like the history geek that I am, I found myself wanting to read further about the history of some of the topics. Considering current world events, I also found the sections about the middle east to be quite enlightening. It's an area of ancient world history I have previously not had much interest in. A very fascinating read. I really like the author's perspective that cultural behavior can be explained by real and concrete things. Like the history geek that I am, I found myself wanting to read further about the history of some of the topics. Considering current world events, I also found the sections about the middle east to be quite enlightening. It's an area of ancient world history I have previously not had much interest in.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hood

    Harris is an "Anthropologist" and uses judgmental words such as bizarre and maniacal in the same sentence. My problem with the book is not the inferences made about certain practices, but the way in which they are discussed. It saddens me to see someone supposedly dedicated to the study of culture discuss in such a negative manner. Harris is an "Anthropologist" and uses judgmental words such as bizarre and maniacal in the same sentence. My problem with the book is not the inferences made about certain practices, but the way in which they are discussed. It saddens me to see someone supposedly dedicated to the study of culture discuss in such a negative manner.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kari

    I did not like this book. It never occurred to me to question why Hindus would rather starve than eat a sacred cow. This book seemed to me to be an old white guys anthropological "opinion," giving Western explanations for cultural practices. I did not like this book. It never occurred to me to question why Hindus would rather starve than eat a sacred cow. This book seemed to me to be an old white guys anthropological "opinion," giving Western explanations for cultural practices.

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