Like The Golden Bough, but accurate
March 8, 2018 7:02 AM   Subscribe

As a high school student, I discovered Frazer's The Golden Bough and was fascinated. Unfortunately, it turns out that "whenever the evidence did not fit he simply altered the evidence". Is there any book you can recommend which is as wide-ranging in its anthropological and historical interests but more truthful?
posted by clawsoon to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Guns, Germs, and Steel?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:05 AM on March 8, 2018

To narrow it down: Looking more for ritual, religion, cultural and sexual practises from a large variety of cultures. A book that gives a sense by way of many examples of just how varied human organization and experience can be. More mapping the terrain of human variety than asking "why?" or "how?" questions. The Childcraft Children Everywhere volume would be closer to what I'm looking for than Guns, Germs and Steel, but (unlike Childcraft) non-fiction instead of fiction, for adults instead of children, and with evidence from as many small, varied cultures as possible instead of focusing mostly on the world's major cultures.

Hope that helps.
posted by clawsoon at 7:46 AM on March 8, 2018

I'd suggest picking up a cheap, old edition of Holly Peters-Golden's Culture Sketches textbook and also Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction by John Monaghan and Peter Just. The former is frequently used in anthropology classes to provide contexualized/holistic albeit partially historical perspectives on cultural variation while still being readable to beginners, and the latter features both frequent anecdotes from the authors' somewhat more current research in Oaxaca, Mexico and Sumbawa, Indonesia and also many quick references to facts about cultural variation historically and/or worldwide.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:59 AM on March 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth
posted by mikecable at 9:30 AM on March 8, 2018

That sounds like exactly what I'm looking for, Wobbuffet. To take it a step further, what would be the recommended very long text once I finish the very short introduction and want to learn ten times as much?
posted by clawsoon at 10:26 AM on March 8, 2018

The typical next step would be to develop a habit of reading ethnographies. See this FPP for a list of classic suggestions and also caveats about them. Anthropologists are pretty resolutely contextualist in approach, not least because Frazer et al. are held up as examples not to follow. And there are plenty of reasons to still be worried about the reliability of ethnographic sources. Alcida Ramos's fantastic comparison of modern portrayals of the Yanomami illustrates the point. That said, it's very possible to find regional/topic-focused overviews, e.g. in the Annual Review of Anthropology, edited volumes on particular areas, and so on.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:54 AM on March 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Edward T. Hall's Beyond Culture and The Dance of Life are pretty powerful social anthropology explorations, which he did through a society's understanding of space. Fascinating when you see space's impact on concepts of time.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2018

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