Book Review: Savage Harvest – by Carl Hoffman

Savage HarvestThe subtitle of Savage Harvest is “A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art.”

For me, reading Savage Harvest represented a vicarious journey into a world that is hard to believe still exists today in 2014, a journey into the stone age. It blew my mind wide open, and now has me pondering primitive art (I am going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as I can get back to New York City), cannibalism (and the fact that is most likely still exists in today’s world in remote places), and exotic travel.

Carl Hoffman, the author of Lunatic Express, which I reviewed here four years ago, has made several journeys to Papua New Guinea, investigating the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, who vanished in New Guinea in 1961 at the age of 23. Michael was the son of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, soon to be Vice President of the United States, and one of the most powerful and definitely richest men in the world. He was interested in primitive art and was on a quest to bring some of it home to New York by immersing himself into the culture in Papua New Guinea with the Asmat people.

The photo below shows the young Rockefeller surrounded by Asmat villagers in what appears to be a jubilant dance.

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Picture Credit National Geographic Magazine

On November 20, 1961, he disappeared without a trace. All the power of money and government swarmed down on New Guinea, yet nobody could find a clue. Michael Rockefeller had vanished.

Reminiscent of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Carl Hoffman meticulously retraced Rockefeller’s steps in New Guinea, searched records in the Netherlands and many other parts of the world, and unraveled the mystery of the disappearance one tedious step at a time. Since what happens amongst stone-age primitive people cannot be researched by reading archives, Carl immersed himself with the Asmat.

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Picture Credit: The Washingtonian

Here is a picture of Carl with some of his Asmat friends when he lived with them while researching Savage Harvest.

What fascinated me about this book was that there were people in 1961 who were so untouched by the rest of the world, so remote, that most of them had never seen any white people, save a few forlorn missionaries. They were a very violent culture, practiced cannibalism as an accepted ritual as they had done for thousands of years. The Dutch and later Indonesian authorities and the Catholic Church worked on eradicating cannibalism with the Asmat. I can imagine that there are, today in 2014, still isolated tribes in the interior of New Guinea, and possibly other remote places in the world, that have not been touched by any civilization from the outside, save the contrails of modern jet travel, who still practice cannibalism today.

Savage Harvest delves deeply into the soul of the Asmat people, shows how they think, how their culture works, and why they might have practiced such a gruesome and repulsive practice, seemingly without any reservation. Their culture is so distant, so alien, so removed from anything we know in the modern world, we can’t even begin to understand. Here is a comment someone named “Scotty” wrote below the Smithsonian article with some interesting insight:

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comment in Smithsonian article

I had started Twitter and email exchanges with the author after my review of Lunatic Express in 2010. Then, two years ago, I contributed to the author’s kickstarter project to fund his second trip to New Guinea, and in return I received my own hardcover signed copy. Thanks, Carl, for a great project completed. It lived up to all its promise and more. Savage Harvest 4

[Click here to order this book from Amazon]

Call for Support for Carl Hoffman’s Next Book

I wrote about Carl Hoffman’s book The Lunatic Express a couple of years ago. Afterwards, I corresponded a bit with him about the book, and I am still following him on Twitter.

Carl has spent the last year or two working on a book about the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 for the publisher William Morrow.  He’s gone deep.  He has found important witnesses who are still alive in Europe.  He has had an awesome researcher in Amsterdam, who’s uncovered hundreds of pages of documents that have never been seen before. He spent February and March in New Guinea, where he stayed with the sons of the men who last saw Michael.  And he’s written 50,000 words so far.

A year into the project he is running out of money.  And he needs to go back – back to Europe to talk to the witnesses again, back to New Guinea.  Quality is all about the details. Key to the whole story is a deep understanding of the Asmat – it’s their sacred world that Michael Rockefeller fell into – and that only comes with time.  Time spend in remote villages on the other side of the Earth.

Carl has launched a project to raise money to finish his book on He only gets funded if he can get enough pledges for the full amount needed. I put in my pledge for $50, which will get me a signed hardcopy of the book, when it’s done.

Here is the link to pledge.

I recommend Carl’s work and I have very much enjoyed his article over the years! If you can spare just a few dollars, please do so. And get the word out. The simplest way to do that is to forward a link to this post.

My Favorite Tweater – Lunatic Carl

Lunatic Carl is my favorite tweater. I always enjoy his posts tremendously.

His real name is Carl Hoffman, and he wrote the book the Lunatic Express, which I reviewed here.

Carl travels to these exotic places and his posts captivate me. My thoughts turn inward and my soul soars as I put myself into his position and see through his posts. Here is the latest one that I just saw:

Here is his twitter link.

Where is the Arafura Sea, you might ask? It’s between Papua, New Guinea and Australia.

He just spent some time in Papua with natives. Check out his tweats on that.

I am following him, as he is curled up on a steel deck with little sleep and big thoughts.