Looking to do some anthropological summer reading to get you in the academic mindset but not sure where to start? Wanting a casual read that’s both fun and informative? Not sure whether to start with classic or contemporary literature? Then check out this Desert Island Books recommendation by Anthropology Editor Jess Wiemer, who provides her must-read anthropological favourites.
Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology: Humanity, Culture and Social Life
By Tim Ingold
This volume is a comprehensive guide to the main theories and arguments in cultural and biological anthropology. It contains sections on human evolution, the components of culture and their histories, and social processes. This volume is ideal in gaining a basic understanding of the field of anthropology. Its short, succinct sections work perfectly as a quick and easy reference.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari
This volume is ideal for the budding biological anthropologist. This historical overview of humankind begins discussing ‘The Cognitive Revolution’ through an examination of human biological evolution. From there Harari moves on to discuss ‘The Agricultural Revolution’ and the beginnings of human culture, followed by ‘The Unification of Humankind’ and imperialism. He concludes by examining ‘The Scientific Revolution’ which includes an in-depth analysis of capitalism and industry. This volume exquisitely details the main events in human history and its consequences. Sapiens is a perfect resource to use when attempting to examine social events with philosophical, sociological, historical, biological, and cultural anthropological perspectives.
Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory
By Alfred Gell
This intriguing volume examines arguments surrounding the agency of art. Agency is define as the intentional will of an actor for a specific outcome to occur. Gell theorizes that art objects are actors with the capacity to enact agency on the viewers of the art objects. For anyone interested in Actor-Network theory, art, or technology, Art and Agency is a brilliant work conceptualizing contemporary ideas on the blurred lines between the human and non-human.
Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache
By Keith Basso
This ethnography examines conceptions of space and place by focusing on landscape ontologies of the Western Apache nation of east central Arizona. This fascinating volume delves into theories surrounding the symbiotic relationship between humans and landscape, and the agency and cultural meanings derived from both. Basso’s poetic writing engages the reader whilst remaining analytical in his research. Wisdom Sits in Places is and exciting read for those interested in landscape, the agency of objects, or theoretical ethnographies.
Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography
By James Clifford and George Marcus
This brilliant volume edited by Clifford and Marcus is an essential read for anyone interested in writing ethnographically. It delves into controversial ethical dilemmas surrounding ethnographic writing including issues of bias and problematic data. It examines the argument that being a distant, scientific observer is not only impossible to be as an anthropologist, but the attempt perpetuates ideas of Western supremacy of knowledge which stems from imperialism. This volume thoroughly analyses the changing dynamic of ethnography and cultural intervention in the postmodern era, and is critical for students learning how to research and write ethnographically.