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Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
Pages: 496
Publication Date: January 31, 2017

Primitive Man as Philosopher

by Paul Radin, introduction by Neni Panourgia

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Primitive Man as Philosopher is the influential anthropologist and ethnologist Paul Radin’s enduringly relevant survey of an array of aboriginal cultures and belief systems, including those of the Winnebago, Oglala Sioux, Maori, Banda, the Buin of Melanesia,Tahitian and Hawaiian, Zuni, and Ewe. Radin examines the conditioning of thought and religion practiced among the members of each society and the freedom of individuals to deviate from the group and to effect change.

Written in an almost conversational style, Radin’s discourse is rooted in firsthand accounts. He allows his subjects to speak for themselves by quoting extensively from interviews (many of which he conducted in the course of his own fieldwork), and includes a veritable anthology of poems and songs from the varied traditions. Fascinating topics include cultural views of the purpose of life, marital relations, freedom of thought, death, resignation, the nature of reality, the structure of the ego, human personality, the systemization of ideas, and concepts of deities. In addition, Radin offers brilliant interpretations of myth and symbolism in his exploration of their deeper meanings in each culture. Readers both in and out of the field will appreciate the rich and varied insights of this classic of anthropology.

by Paul Radin, introduction by Neni Panourgia


By skillful use of texts from native informants and his own colorful prose, I believe [Radin] succeeds well enough so that the book is a landmark...[Radin] is a fertile and imaginative scholar who can be infuriating but never dull...full of rich ideas.
—Evon Z. Vogt, American Anthropologist

Radin's approach to anthropology [was widespread], ranging from culture, ritual, myth and religion, to history, social theory, law and language.
—E.O. James, Folklore

By linking modes of thought and conduct with social types, Radin developed some leads towards a social anthropology of knowledge.
—Edward Rose, American Sociological Review

A minor masterpiece of the Americanist tradition.
—Regna Darnell

[Primitive Man as Philosopher] did more than any other [book] to dispel the mischievous notion that human beings in small, technologically simple cultures exist at a dead level of uniformity and conformity.
New York Herald Tribune

Nature (London)

A significant addition to the body of work that deals with the nature of religion.
The New Republic