Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar
This prologue as any prologue is a little overview of what the book is about and why this is relevant and you should spend your time and money reading it. The general idea goes as follows:
Most of the traits of the World we are living in are extraordinary recent when taking into account the span of time we humans have been present in the planet. State organization, metal tools, intensive agricultural production of food, urban settlements etc. begin to appear in our history less that 15.000 years ago. Until this moment, for around 6M years, we humans have been living in very different conditions and social structures, what the author calls traditional societies.
This book intends to be an overview of some of the traits of that traditional societies. Why is this important? First, because those societies are much more varied that ours and so we can learn a lot about the human nature and how to distinguish what is essential to being human and what are cultural artefacts. Every traditional society can be viewed as a social experiment where different approaches and cultural traits have been tried with different success rate. To know those cultures can also be important because we can learn something from them that can be useful to help us live a more happy and plenty live. The last reason to look at traditional societies is to be grateful that we are not there any more because there were also highly unpleasant things.
The prologue goes on introducing us to the Elman Service’s division of human societies: bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states. It defines and explains these categories as it describes how they have been evolving in history and also makes and astonishingly short briefing of Guns, Germs and Steel, his most famous book and probably the reason we are here reading another of his books. In this context, he presents us with those surviving traditional societies that will be studied in this book.
The final part: “Plan of the book” I didn’t read as I never do. In fact I tend to skip prologues altogether.
The best of the chapter: the pictures. Those images (plate 30 and 31) showing the first encounter of New Guinea Highlanders with westerners are worth looking a thousand times.