War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage

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War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage

By Lawrence H. Keeley
Oxford University Press, 1996
245 pp. $25.00

Most well-read students of warfare have a vague sense that the notion of peacefully primitive humanity has taken some hits in recent years. This book, however, documents the pervasiveness of cruel, chronic, and systematic warfare among most hunting-gathering societies, and, insofar as archaeological evidence may speak to us, prehistoric tribes as well. Keeley, an anthropologist long frustrated by the unwillingness of many of his colleagues to face up to this unsavory fact, makes it quite clear that the notion of primitive war being stylized and relatively bloodless is false. At once scholarly and lucid, he paints a dark picture of human nature, although he does not believe humankind is doomed to a perpetual striving for mutual extinction. A sobering, grim, and important book.

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