Best Books for Anthropologists

Anthropology is the human science. Primarily, it is the study of the diversity in human experience. Culture, language, ritual and history. We are all the same yet different. That is the beauty of anthropology; This acknowledgement and to explore and uncover the mysteries of humanity.

In an increasingly globalized world, where people from a variety of different backgrounds are being forced to mingle and interact with each other, having the wisdom of an anthropologist in your back pocket could be very helpful.

There are plenty of books out there about Anthropology and many of them, quite old. Though the following are my favorites for anyone with a fleeting interest in the field or even if you are an amateur “Arm-Chair Anthropologist.”

  1. Travels” by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is known for being one of the best Science fiction and Novel writers of all time. His intelligence was legendary and was famous for crafting stories that pulled the reader in from page one. Perhaps The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park are his most famous works, yet a little known personal book by the name of, “Travels,” is absolutely my favorite book of all time.

It recounts Crichton’s personal travels and adventures from his University days, to the later periods of his life when he was a world famous author and movie director.

It is a very little known fact that Crichton got his Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology before he would go on to Harvard Medical school. He also taught Anthropology courses at Cambridge before his writing career took off.

In “Travels,” Crichton would refer to his education in Anthropology quite often, both literally and evidenced by his written perceptions and insights while exploring remote locations around the world.

His curiosity takes him on a trek to the old mountain kingdom of Hunza and the fabled Shangri-La in present day Pakistan and drives him to stay with a tribe in Papa New Guinea who refused to believe that the “metal birds” (planes) they saw in the skies, were full of people.

Crichton also explores his inner world. Rather than completely shun esoteric practices like meditation and topics of spiritualism, he travels these realms with an open mind by going on retreats in the desert and meeting with psychics in London.

2.) ‘Stranger in The Village of The Sick” by Paul Stoller

Paul Stoller is one of the more renowned Anthropologists of the present era. He is known for his work among West African immigrants in the United States and the Songhay people in West Africa.

He is also an expert on the sorcerer practices of West Africa, where as a young Anthropologist, he apprenticed himself under a tribal elder known as Adam Jenitongo.

In his memoir, “Stranger in The Village of The Sick,” Stoller gets diagnosed with Cancer and together with chemothereapy, turns to his knowledge of sorcery to help him cope and recover from his life altering diagnosis.

He recounts stories and lessons learned in west African forests and savannahs and especially from his teacher, Jenitongo. He performs rituals and takes comfort in the knowledge that was passed down to him.

Miraculously, Stoller recovers from his illness using both western and esoteric medicine systems.

His reflections on the differences of how illness is treated in the Western World and in other parts of the world, is fascinating and revealing.

Rather than assert the dominance of Western science, Stoller convincingly argues that ritual practices from many indigenuous cultures, can be quite powerful for those who use it wisely.

3.) “When God Talks Back” by Tanya Luhrmann

Tanya Luhrmann is a brilliant Anthropologist who specializes in religious studies and psychological anthropology. In “When God Talks Back,” Luhrmann dives into the lives of the ultra spiritual and religious, specifically Evangelist Christians. Luhrmann wanted to know how God became real to the ultra devoted.

She conducts her anthropological fieldwork at Congregations in Chicago and Northern California.

She attends sermon after sermon and a plethora of bible study sessions while also engaging in prayer practices. Through questions and everyday conversation, she gets to know the minds of the supremely devoted Evangelical Christian. She relays their self proclaimed experiences with the Supernatural and theorizes potential explanations for these experiences, while also respecting the obvious level of mystery that comes with attempting to explain the origins of spiritual experiences.

She doesnt accuse devotees who claim to speak with God as hallucinating or to be delusional but instead, comes to respect the extraordinary power of faith and prayer.

She comes to understand the process of teaching the mind to experience God and that despite their reputation, Evangelist Christians, along with others who engage in spiritual practices, are not to be laughed at.

4.) “As Told at The Explorer’s Club” Edited by George Plimpton

“As Told At The Explorer’s Club,” is a collection of stories from some of the most prolific Explorer’s of the 19th and 20th centuries. This book was published in 2004, a century after The Club’s founding in New York City.

From tales of first ascents of Everest, to living among sorcerers in Africa, As Told at The Explorer’s Club is one of the most inspiring collections of stories from explorers and anthropologists ever put together.

Roy Chapman Andrews, writes in his story about exploring the wilderness of Northern Korea in 1912,

“I am averse to writing about adventures, for I dislike them,. They’re a nuisance. They interfere with work and disrupt carefully laid plans. Still, even the best prepared explorer cannot always avoid what may be called adventures. It is impossible to foresee everything. I suppose that I have had many adventures during twenty-three years of wandering into strange corners of the world but in retrospect I cannot say which single experience was the most exciting. At the time it was happening, each one seemed more interesting than any other.”

“As Told At The Explorer’s Club”, pg 221

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