Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

This book challenges those who argue that we can change the world by changing the way people think. Harris shows that no matter how bizarre a people’s behavior may seem, it always stems from concrete social and economic conditions.

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2 thoughts on “Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture”

  1. Engrossing, fascinating and logical I first read this book as “light” reading when I was a graduate student in anthropology. Now, as an anthropology instructor, I assign it as a textbook in a course on Religion, Magic and Witchcraft. It proposes logical and fascinating solutions to such puzzles as (1) why Hindus are better off going hungry than slaughtering and eating their cattle,(2) why religions of the Middle East have made pork taboo, while cultures of the South Pacific organize their ritual life around pork feasts, and (3) in what way are New Guinea cargo cults, the 12 disciples of Jesus, the European witch trials, and the popularity of New Age beliefs of today the results of similar cultural pressures.

  2. An Insightful and Entertaining Analysis of Cultures I’ve read this book twice already, and on the third time, I’m still getting new perspectives from Harris’ masterful analysis of puzzling cultural phenomena like religious dietary restrictions (why are cows sacred and pigs aren’t?), cargo cults (why are some countries rich and others poor?), and witch hunts (what did religion have to do with it?). All the quick explanations for these phenomena we were given in school were, at best, oversimplified and incomplete. The reviewer who wrote that the book debunks mythology could also have been referring to the mythology believed by historians, scientists, and adademics. Harris occasionally turns the microscope on our own culture and the assumptions we hold and the explanations we accept for things we don’t understand. He takes on the sacred cows of anthropology and history, including Sacred Cows, and presents a new paradigm for understanding each subject.

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