Books about peaceful societies would make ideal Christmas presents for people who take seriously the basic message of the New Testament that emphasizes “on earth peace, good will toward men.” While used copies of all the works recommended on the Best Books page of this website are normally available through Bookfinder.com, many people prefer to purchase only new books as special holiday gifts. A quick search on Amazon.com shows that five of the “best books” are still in print.
Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, by Jean L. Briggs (list price $21.95), is a fascinating study of a band of Inuit people who are practically horrified by any manifestations of anger. When the author, herself an anthropologist, briefly flashes her irritation at some intruders who are trying to exploit her friends, the Inuit shun her for months. Anger might lead to violence. A wonderful book.
While Donald B. Kraybill, the sociologist author of Riddle of Amish Culture ($17.95 list), does not bring himself into his study of the Amish, his analysis and explanation of their culture is so effective that the book is hard to put down. Kraybill sets for himself the task of explaining Amish society—the riddles about them that puzzle so many people. He writes effectively, his scholarship is masterful, and his photos are great.
Two of the outstanding older classics about peaceful African societies are also still in print. Both The Harmless People, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ($14.95), a 1959 book about the Ju/’hoansi, and Colin Turnbull’s 1961 work The Forest People ($14.00) about the Mbuti were best sellers. Neither of these authors claimed that the societies they described were absolutely peaceful, and both the Ju/’hoansi and the Mbuti have received a lot of additional, careful analysis by scholars (please see the entries for those two societies in this website). But with their engaging narrative styles, these two books remain excellent introductions for peaceful readers.
A fifth work on our Best Books page, Keeping the Peace: Conflict Resolution and Peaceful Societies around the World, edited by Graham Kemp and Douglas P. Fry ($33.95), provides solid scholarly accounts of the dispute resolution strategies within the broader social and cultural contexts of a number of nonviolent societies. Most of the essays in this book are quite interesting and engaging. Peacefulness takes many forms in different societies, a point the book amplifies effectively.
This website has reviewed a number of other worthwhile new books this year dealing with peaceful societies, a few of which should also be considered for holiday gifts (or purchase for one’s own library). Ravina Aggarwal’s Beyond Lines of Control: Performance and Politics on the Disputed Borders of Ladakh, India ($23.95), reviewed here on March 18, provides a detailed, well-written account of the social and cultural issues in Ladakh relating to the international conflict along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. While many news sources this year have chronicled the political steps that seek to minimize tensions along the international border, this book provides careful, thoughtful background to the headlines.
On January 2, while the website was still restricted to our reviewers only, we reviewed Lye Tuck- Po’s new book Changing Pathways: Forest Degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia ($80.00). Although the work does not specifically deal with the peacefulness of the Batek, its interesting, effective interpretation of their ever more fragile way of life in the diminishing Malaysian forest is quite valuable. Unfortunately, the book is highly overpriced, which may diminish its appeal to many potential book buyers.
Oxford University Press did not make that mistake. That firm published Douglas P. Fry’s monumental new work The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence for a list price of only $24.95. While a contributed review of this important book has not yet arrived, we can share a recent posting to a listserv from a professor of psychology at an American university. He wrote, “just last week I had shown The Human Potential for Peace to a couple of students who could not imagine that peaceful cultures could exist. It completely changed how they thought about things.” Please watch for the review in these pages, which is expected shortly. Meanwhile, this book will make an ideal Christmas present.