The best hunter gatherer books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about hunter gatherers and why they recommend each book.

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Hierarchy in the Forest

By Christopher Boehm,

Book cover of Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior

To understand human nature you need to take a deep dive into anthropology, particularly into the lives of hunter-gatherers. Because humans are the most flexible animal on this planet, it can be incredibly difficult for an outsider to tell which lessons from any one society are general and which relate to just their small part of the world. The beauty of this book is that the brilliant anthropologist who wrote it does the hard yards for you, narrating a fascinating and highly accessible trip through the lives of hunter-gatherers.

Hierarchy in the Forest

By Christopher Boehm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hierarchy in the Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are humans by nature hierarchical or egalitarian? Hierarchy in the Forest addresses this question by examining the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior. Christopher Boehm, an anthropologist whose fieldwork has focused on the political arrangements of human and nonhuman primate groups, postulates that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong.

The political flexibility of our species is formidable: we can be quite egalitarian, we can be quite despotic. Hierarchy in the Forest traces the roots of these contradictory traits in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and early human societies. Boehm looks at…


Who am I?

I’m a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Queensland. I’ve had the good fortune to spend my life studying humans and trying to figure out how they got that way. These are some of the best books I’ve read on this fascinating topic. They might seem to be all over the map, but understanding human nature requires approaching it from many different perspectives, and these books will get you started.


I wrote...

The Social Leap: The New Evolutionary Science of Who We Are, Where We Come From, and What Makes Us Happy

By William Von Hippel,

Book cover of The Social Leap: The New Evolutionary Science of Who We Are, Where We Come From, and What Makes Us Happy

What is my book about?

In the compelling popular science tradition of Sapiens and Guns, Germs, and Steel, a groundbreaking and eye-opening exploration that applies evolutionary science to provide a new perspective on human psychology, revealing how major challenges from our past have shaped some of the most fundamental aspects of our being.

On Hunting

By Roger Scruton,

Book cover of On Hunting

On Hunting is not so much a defence of foxhunting, which the conservative philosopher came to quite late in life, as a celebration of everything associated with it, from its culture to its profound influence on rural communities and the strange veneration of the quarry species. It also helps to explain, better than any other book I have read, why significant numbers of people are so passionate about hunting. “This book will bring on its author’s head the abuse to which he has long been accustomed,” wrote the historian Raymond Carr in the Literary Review. “But even the politically correct, if they have a shred of honesty, must acknowledge the intellectual power and literary elegance that distinguish it.”

On Hunting

By Roger Scruton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Hunting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on his own experiences of hunting and offering a delightful portrait of the people and animals who take part in it, Roger Scruton introduces the reader to some of the mysteries of country life. His book is a plea for tolerance towards a sport in which the love of animals prevails over the pursuit of them, and in which Nature herself is the centre of the drama. 'A supremely witty book. ' EVENING STANDARD 'A pocket masterpiece. . . and a lyrical celebration. 'THE SPECTATOR 'This is a lovely book. . . A Classic. ' INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 'A…

Who am I?

I thought I was going to be a farmer, but some serious practical experience after I finished school put paid to that idea. I then focused my attention on conservation, before turning to travel writing. All of which led, eventually, to a growing interest in development issues and how people can make a living from the land. The result is over a dozen books, some of which are narrative-driven travelogues – many based on my experiences in Africa and elsewhere; and some of which focus on the nitty-gritty of agriculture, agroforestry, and related issues. My most recent book, Land of Plenty, provided a state of the nation account of British farming during the tumultuous year (for farmers, at least) when the UK voted to leave the EU.


I wrote...

Land of Plenty: A Journey Through the Fields & Foods of Modern Britain

By Charlie Pye-Smith,

Book cover of Land of Plenty: A Journey Through the Fields & Foods of Modern Britain

What is my book about?

A great many people are fascinated by food – just look at the viewing figures for programmes like MasterChef – but they often know little or nothing about our oldest and most important industry, which is agriculture. This was what stimulated me to write Land of Plenty. During the course of a year, I travelled the length and breadth of Britain talking to the people that supply us with our daily bread and butter, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables. There are certainly many things wrong with the way we use the land, but there is much to celebrate too. Land of Plenty is a homage to the people who have shaped our countryside.

Social Inequality Before Farming?

By Luc Moreau (editor),

Book cover of Social Inequality Before Farming?

This is actually an edited book of papers dealing with the social organization among prehistoric and ethnographic hunter-gatherers. It is one of the few publications that discusses issues like inequality from a variety of different viewpoints, including diametrically opposed views about Upper Paleolithic societies – whether they were egalitarian or non-egalitarian. Another important aspect of this volume is the inclusion of ethnographic hunter-gatherers to generate insights into how prehistoric hunter-gatherers could have organized themselves. Some unique features include the examination of dogs as indicators of inequalities and the nature of the cave paintings as indicators of inequalities. Mobility, population densities, surpluses, and many other factors all create a heady brew of debate and intriguing ideas. This book is highly recommended, even if a bit technical.

Social Inequality Before Farming?

By Luc Moreau (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Social Inequality Before Farming? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I became intrigued by Upper Paleolithic societies when I studied prehistory at the University of Bordeaux. Over time, I became more and more involved in trying to understand why some Upper Paleolithic societies produced such great art – both painted and carved. After years of studying hunter-gatherer cultures, I concluded that the Upper Paleolithic groups producing fine art were not simple egalitarian groups, but were almost certainly more complex types of hunter-gatherers like the ethnographic groups in California and the Northwest Coast with striking economic and social inequalities – and great art. I decided to put all these ideas into an adventure novel for young readers: The Eyes of the Leopard.  


I wrote...

The Eyes of the Leopard

By Brian D. Hayden, Eric Carlson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Eyes of the Leopard

What is my book about?

The Eyes of the Leopard is a historical adventure novel for young and old readers based on a lifetime of research into hunting and gathering societies by archaeologist Dr. Brian Hayden. It is his view of what life and society were like 20,000 years ago in Southwestern France, where he studied (University of Bordeaux) and conducted research in some of the important painted caves from the Upper Paleolithic. He also used experiences from working with Australian Aborigines to document their use of stone tools, as well as working with more complex hunter-gatherers in the Interior of British Columbia. The book has been acclaimed by professional archaeologists, young readers, and others as a vivid, exciting, realistic account of these societies and a wonderful read.

Notes On A Beermat

By Nicholas Pashley,

Book cover of Notes On A Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

You know how, when you read a book that’s so clever, funny, and perfectly written you want to actually get to know the author? That’s what happened to me when I read this book. Even though I didn’t know him, I knew he’d be the kind of person that you hoped to run into at the bar—a generous man with a great sense of humor, a bright outlook, and plenty of great stories.  

We did eventually come to be friends in real life, too. It turned out that we’re practically neighbors and both enjoy the occasional glass of gin. True story.

Notes On A Beermat

By Nicholas Pashley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Notes On A Beermat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 2001 to national acclaim, Notes on a Beermat is Nicholas Pashley’s ode to the amber nectar of the gods, a witty meditation on beer and everything that goes with it―from socializing to the solitary pleasures of a beer and a book, to the qualities necessary in a good pub.
    Most books about beer focus on the beverage itself, how to make it and how to buy it. Notes on a Beermat, the only Canadian book of its kind, explains how to drink beer and why it is absolutely necessary. With characteristic wit and charm, Pashley observes, for…


Who am I?

I became interested in bar culture in my 20s when I worked at a neighborhood "local" in Toronto and was struck by how close people could become when sharing drinks and stories across a bar. Since then, I’ve spent most of my life researching the history of cocktails and bars—both as an academic topic and as a columnist for magazines and newspapers, including the Toronto Star. I’ve written a podcast on Prohibition for Wondery Media, as well as four books, Mondo Cocktail, America Walks Into a Bar, Canadian Spirits (with Stephen Beaumont), and the forthcoming Cocktails: A Still Life (Running Press), with James Waller and still-life artist Todd M. Casey.   


I wrote...

America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

By Christine Sismondo,

Book cover of America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

What is my book about?

Some people dismiss taverns as trivial. Others might argue that saloons are a bad influence. This book re-frames bars as valuable community spaces by exploring the role they’ve played in American history—from the Salem Witch Trials to Stonewall. Even though the United States has an ambivalent relationship with its bars and alcohol—a substance that has been and still can be a destructive force—taverns and saloons have also been key players in many social, cultural and political movements. And, since our local dives are an increasingly endangered species, now is a good moment to consider exactly what we are losing.   

Book cover of Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

Cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald posited that, at the most fundamental level, humans have a hybrid mind, one that consists of a gene-based mammalian, analogue brain, onto which is grafted a culture-based, symbolic brain. The former, the primitive mammalian brain, is a space where “the lines between consciousness and the mind’s inaccessible unconscious modules are drawn very deep in the sand” (p. 286).

As to myth, Donald noted that virtually all hunter-gatherer societies observed in the modern era have or had elaborate mythological systems, all structured along the same lines, in which myth informs every aspect of life: “myth permeates and regulates daily life, channels perceptions, determines the significance of every object and event in life. Clothing, food, shelter, family – all receive their ‘meaning’ from myth” (p. 215).

Origins of the Modern Mind

By Merlin Donald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Origins of the Modern Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This bold and brilliant book asks the ultimate question of the life sciences: How did the human mind acquire its incomparable power? In seeking the answer, Merlin Donald traces the evolution of human culture and cognition from primitive apes to artificial intelligence, presenting an enterprising and original theory of how the human mind evolved from its presymbolic form.

Who am I?

A certain idea kept cropping up in my reading, triggered perhaps by Richard Dawkins's conception in The Selfish Gene, of the “meme.” It seemed that the meme had a life of its own. Then I came across Richerson’s and Boyd’s Not by Genes Alone, and they laid it out: cultures evolve. And they evolve independently of the genes—free of genetic constraints in an idea or thought to contribute to its own survival. That is up to the multitude of people who happen to come across it. I now have a new book readying for publication: How Cognition, Language, Myth, and Culture Came Together To Make Us What We Are.


I wrote...

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

By Thomas T. Lawson,

Book cover of Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

What is my book about?

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind is a review and an explanation of Jung's thought set in an evolutionary context. Jung explored the human psyche throughout his long life. His writings, of astonishing scope and depth, elaborate on imagery that can be found in rituals, myths, and fables worldwide as well as in the dreams, visions, and fantasies of his patients and himself. Jung pursued common threads of meaning to the point of becoming deeply versed in the esoterica of Eastern mysticism, Gnosticism, and alchemy. Taken collectively, Jung's works develop a coherent theory about how the psyche is constructed. The author demonstrates that Jung's concept of a collective unconscious structured by archetypes meshes well with accepted views of evolution and can be squared with the most rigorous science of today. 

Stone Age Economics

By Marshall Sahlins,

Book cover of Stone Age Economics

Building on Mauss, Polanyi, and others, Sahlins described, in 1972, societies without money, without states or formal power, but which nevertheless did well. The most famous essay in the book is titled, appropriately, "The Original Affluent Society" and describes the lives of hunter and gatherers before they were overrun by farmers and armies. Very thought-provoking. Sometimes, less is more.

Stone Age Economics

By Marshall Sahlins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stone Age Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its first publication over forty years ago Marshall Sahlins's Stone Age Economics has established itself as a classic of modern anthropology and arguably one of the founding works of anthropological economics. Ambitiously tackling the nature of economic life and how to study it comparatively, Sahlins radically revises traditional views of the hunter-gatherer and so-called primitive societies, revealing them to be the original "affluent society."

Sahlins examines notions of production, distribution and exchange in early communities and examines the link between economics and cultural and social factors. A radical study of tribal economies, domestic production for livelihood, and of the…


Who am I?

I’m an anthropologist and writer who has published more than fifty books, ranging from novels and essays to academic monographs and textbooks. I am passionate about trying to make the world a slightly better place, and I am convinced that we need to think differently about the good life and the economy in order to get out of the corner we’ve painted ourselves into. Economic anthropology offers alternative perspectives on the world and the human condition. It's far less obscure than it sounds.


I wrote...

Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology

By Thomas Hylland Eriksen,

Book cover of Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology

What is my book about?

It is a book that invites the reader to explore the breadth and diversity of human culture across the world. Conceived as a textbook, it is nevertheless written in a narrative style, and it's chock-full of stories and anecdotes from all over the world. I cover the breadth of social and cultural anthropology, from kinship in Melanesian villages to the digital revolution in African cities, from swidden agriculture to tourism. The book, originally from 1995, is due to be published in its fifth revised and expanded edition in 2023. This upcoming edition has been thoroughly revised and updated, and contains a couple of brand new chapters. As the world changes, so must we.

Against the Grain

By James C. Scott,

Book cover of Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Scott takes us through the evidence of the earliest hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies and asks why anyone ever allowed rulers to amass power and centralize control of resources. The evidence is that farmers flourished for centuries without letting anyone lord it over them. Why, then, does agriculture seem to have led to the rise of the state? Readable and compelling, Scott's latest book makes a really convincing case against the benefits, and inevitability, of the state.

Against the Grain

By James C. Scott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Against the Grain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Economist Best History Book 2017

"History as it should be written."-Barry Cunliffe, Guardian

"Scott hits the nail squarely on the head by exposing the staggering price our ancestors paid for civilization and political order."-Walter Scheidel, Financial Times

Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal grains, and governed by precursors of today's states? Most people believe that plant and animal domestication allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, and states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, and a presumably secure way of living. But archaeological and historical…

Who am I?

I'm an anthropologist on a mission to discover how people have used, and abused, law over the past 4,000 years. After a decade in a wig and gown at the London Bar, I headed back to university to pursue a long-standing interest in Tibetan culture. I spent two years living with remote villagers and nomads, freezing over dung fires, herding yaks, and learning about traditional legal practices. Now, based at the University of Oxford, I’ve turned to legal history, comparing ancient Tibetan texts with examples from all over the world. The Rule of Laws brings a long sweep of legal history and its fascinating diversity to a wide audience.


I wrote...

The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

By Fernanda Pirie,

Book cover of The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

What is my book about?

The epic story of the ways in which people have used laws to forge civilizations.

Rulers throughout history have made law. But laws were never simply instruments of power. They also offered diverse people a way to express their visions for a better world. I trace the rise and fall of the sophisticated legal systems that underpinned ancient empires and religious traditions. I describe tribal assemblies, farmers, and merchants who turned to law to define their communities, and I reveal the legal efforts that people repeatedly make to control their leaders. The rule of law has ancient origins, I conclude, but it Is not inevitable. Laws can only make the world better if we understand where they have come from and how they could have been different.

Childhood

By Melvin Konner,

Book cover of Childhood: A Multicultural View

Konner is an anthropologist and physician who spent time with the !Kung hunters and gatherers studying children. This book is based on the PBS show Childhood, and it is everything you might want to know about childhood because it traverses both biology and culture. A dense read, but worth it.

Childhood

By Melvin Konner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Childhood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Channel 4 TV tie-in book by anthropologist and psychiatrist Melvin Konner takes a journey through the childhood years - from conception and birth through adolescence - showing how children experience them, how parents and societies shape them and how science is beginning to understand them.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist with a background in evolutionary biology, primate behavior, and cross-cultural approaches to parenting. I taught “The Anthropology of Parenting” for 20 years at Cornell University. The book grew from interviews with anthropologists, pediatricians, and child development experts taking a different stance about parents and babies—that we should look at how babies are designed by evolution and how cultures then interfere with those expectations. My book shows there is no perfect way to raise a child but there are styles in other cultures we can borrow to make our babies, and ourselves, more at ease.


I wrote...

Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

What is my book about?

Should an infant be encouraged to sleep alone? Is breastfeeding better than bottle-feeding, or is that just a myth of the nineties? How much time should pass before a mother picks up her crying infant? And how important is it really to a baby's development to talk and sing to him or her?

In this ground-breaking book, anthropologist Meredith Small reveals her remarkable findings in the new science of ethnopediatrics. Professor Small joins pediatricians, child-development researchers, and anthropologists across the country who are studying to what extent the way we parent our infants is based on biological needs and to what extent it is based on culture - and how sometimes what is culturally dictated may not be what's best for babies.

The Brightest Stars

By Fred Schaaf,

Book cover of The Brightest Stars: Discovering the Universe Through the Sky's Most Brilliant Stars

The stars have captivated hunter-gatherers, artists and astrologers, sages and scientists, romantics, and civilizations since the beginning of human time. 

In this book we encounter the twenty-one brightest stars visible from earth and dig into their remarkable secrets. Did you know some giant stars spin so fast they flatten out like eggs? There are stars that pulse back and forth like beating hearts? And some stars are cosmic interlopers passing through our Milky Way galaxy on their way back into the void of forever space. This is my go-to book when I want to refresh my imagination with wondrous facts about the stars blazing overhead. It should be within handy reach of every star-struck observer, camper, or poet.

The Brightest Stars

By Fred Schaaf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Brightest Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fred Schaaf is one of the most experienced astronomical observers of our time. For more than two decades, his view of the sky-what will be visible, when it will be visible, and what it will look like-has encouraged tens of thousands of people to turn their eyes skyward.
—David H. Levy, Science Editor, Parade magazine, discoverer of twenty-one comets, and author of Starry Night and Cosmic Discoveries

""Fred Schaaf is a poet of the stars. He brings the sky into people's lives in a way that is compelling and his descriptions have all the impact of witnessing the stars on…


Who am I?

I am a naturalist, astronomer, space artist, and a Harvard world lecturer living in the Rocky Mountains outside of Aspen. So far, I’ve written and illustrated twelve kid’s astronomy books for National Geographic and Penguin Random House. I directed the Science Information Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge Massachusetts for fourteen years then left in 2015 to join NASA’s New Horizons Mission Team becoming one of the first humans to see the planet Pluto up close and personal. I am also a Grammy nominated songwriter/musician, astrophotographer, telescope maker who enjoys scuba diving at night and occasionally has been known to parachute out of perfectly operating aircraft.


I wrote...

Book cover of Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond

What is my book about?

Space Encyclopedia is an updated and expanded 2nd edition of my earlier book Planets, Stars & Galaxies presenting the most up-to-date discoveries of the universe including the first breathtaking image of a real black hole. This cosmic compendium contains everything space travelers might need to know about our solar system, a new menagerie of dwarf planets, the formation and ultimate fate of the universe, great-unsolved mysteries, the future of space travel, and the possibility of intelligent life beyond the Earth.

It has almost everything except the kitchen sink. This is your 21st Century passport to the stars. Check your spacesuit for leaks, your journey begins the moment you open it up.

Beyond the Far Horizon

By Charles Cleland,

Book cover of Beyond the Far Horizon: Adventures of a Fur Trader

This fictional account of the life of an English fur trader is a sentimental favorite for me out of my respect for historian Charles Cleland.

Cleland tells the story of Alexander Henry who was captured by the Odawa Indians during the attack on Fort Michillimackinac in 1763. Henry lived among the Indians through the seasons, giving an eye-witness account of their lives as hunter-gatherers. Cleland is better as a historian than a novelist, but this is still a fun read and would also be a good book on any Young Adult list.

Beyond the Far Horizon

By Charles Cleland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beyond the Far Horizon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beyond the Far Horizon is based upon the true life story of Alexander Henry, abrave and adventurous young man who, as a fur trader, dared to risk his life andfortune on the vast lakes and in dark forests of the Great Lakes frontier. Henryslife, far from the comforts of the American colonies he left behind, was so dangerousthat he was no stranger to the threat of death. As he pursued his fur trade venture duringthe years between 1760 and 1765, he nearly drowned, starved, and froze to death, andon several occasions, barely escaped being killed by hostile Indians. He was…


Who am I?

I’ve written seven books, all along the theme of adventure in one way or another, but my best-known work is that of my novels of the Ojibwe Indians. As a child, I grew up on a farm where my dad discovered scores of arrowheads and artifacts while plowing the fields. This was a deep revelation for me as to the extent of Indian culture and how little we know of its people. In my books, Windigo Moon and The Wolf and The Willow, I try to bring the world of the 1500s and its Native peoples to life.


I wrote...

The Wolf and The Willow

By Robert Downes,

Book cover of The Wolf and The Willow

What is my book about?

The Wolf and The Willow is a novel of first contact between Native peoples and European explorers. Willow, a house slave of a Moroccan lord, is swept up in the 1528 expedition of conquistador Panfilo Narvaez to the New World. There, she meets Animi-Ma’lingan (He Who Outruns the Wolves), a young trader and storyteller who is on a mission to find a mysterious animal for the shamans of the Ojibwe people. Together, Willow and Wolf must outwit their captors on a journey up the Mississippi River through the heart of many thriving Indian civilizations.

The novel delves into the culture of the Ojibwe, Odawa, Mandan, Dakota Sioux, Caddo, and other tribes, culminating in a showdown at the great pyramid of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis.

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