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Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art


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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: “I think I can make it.” In 1961, while on an expedition to collect pieces
for his father’s Museum of Primitive Art, Michael Rockefeller and his traveling companion were plunged into the warm
waters off New Guinea. The billionaire scion tied two empty gas cans to his body for floatation and swam for shore, and
by most accounts, he made it. But what happened there, when he encountered members of the Asmat tribe--a culture marked
by ritual violence and cannibalism--has been long debated. Did he disappear into the tropical jungles, or was he
rendered and eaten by the tribesmen, as many speculated and the Rockefeller family long denied? Award-winning journalist
Carl Hoffman has stepped into Rockefeller’s boot prints and Asmat society, interviewing generations of warriors in an
exhaustive and engrossing attempt to solve the mystery. The result, Savage Harvest, succeeds not only as a captivating
and sensational puzzle, but also as a (seemingly unlikely) modern adventure and a fascinating glimpse of an
anachronistic people pulled into the 20th century by the tensions of global politics. So, did he make it? The title
might offer a clue. --Jon Foro

Simon Winchester
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Simon Winchester Reviews Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for
Primitive Art
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Carl Hoffman, who with his 2010 book The Lunatic Express demonstrated himself to be a traveler of the greatest courage
and determination, as well as a writer of skill, has now made a significant contribution to history. Savage Harvest, a
narrative that is as exciting as it is instructive, appears finally to have winnowed the truth from the mare’s nest of
legend and wishful thinking surrounding the disappearance in November 1961, of Michael Rockefeller, in a remote region
of southwestern New Guinea.The 23-year old, along with a Dutch anthropologist colleague and two young guides, were
sailing in a dugout catamaran some three miles from the coast of Asmat. The craft overturned; the two locals swam for
help, but as the wreck drifted farther from land an impatient Rockefeller decided to try and make it alone. With two
fuel cans to help his buoyancy on what he reckoned would be a twenty-hour swim, he slid into the warm shallows of the
Arafura Sea - never to be seen by friends or family again.Did he drown? Was he eaten by a shark? Did he vanish into the
jungle, Kurtz-like? Or was he the victim of cannibalism at the hands of coastal villagers? Hoffman has shown that with
assiduous tradecraft, hard work and near-obsessive tenacity, it is possible to know, to solve the supposedly insoluble.
He has journeyed, twice now, deep into the dark interiors of Asmat, and has conducted interviews and learned the
language and listened to sensible men and women – in New Guinea, in the Netherlands, in the anthropology departments of
knowledgeable universities. And he has used a severe intelligence to determine just what happened on that warm dawn
Monday, November 20, 1961.The Rockefellers – not least Michael’s twin sister Mary, who produced her own book two years
ago – may not want to believe this tale; and the family did nothing to help Hoffman in his admirable quest. But the
truth, as this book chronicles in patient, meticulous detail, has a way of eking itself out. Savage Harvest is a
remarkable testament to the revealed truth, and of its revealing - even if that truth is wholly bizarre and, to most,
quite literally unpalatable.

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author most recently of The Men Who United the States as well as Atlantic, The
Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New
York Times bestsellers. In 2006 Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her
Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.

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