Last year I posted an open thread called “Anthropology: Five Books,” in which I asked readers to list the five books they feel best represent the discipline. The responses were great. I think it’s time to try another open thread along similar lines, but let’s take a bit of a different route. During that last thread, I asked about books that both represent anthropology and appeal to general readers. This time, let’s talk about the books that form your own personal anthropological canon.
Where did this idea come from? I was just reading Eric Wolf’s “Pathways of Power,” which has a really fascinating intellectual autobiography (the introduction of the book). Wolf lists three “landmark books” that he read early in his career that had tremendous impact upon his thinking:
The first was Karl Wittfogel’s Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Chinas (1931), an extraordinary, ecologically oriented study of the Chinese economy, which dissented from the view that China was merely feudal and saw it instead as an instance of the Asiatic-bureaucracy mode of production. The second was Paul Sweezy’s The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942), which helped me systematize my understandings of Marxian political economy. The third was C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (1938), on the slave rebellions of Haiti in the wake of the French Revolution, one of the first attempts to write a history of a people supposedly “without history.”
So, following Wolf’s example, what are YOUR three landmark books? What are the three books that most influenced how you think about, and practice, anthropology? It might also be interesting to talk about the differences between books that have wide appeal, and those that have tremendous, long-lasting influence within the field.